MY THANKS TO E.S. FOR BRINGING MY ATTENTION TO THIS. . .
Clayton E. Cramer's Column
How To Lose Friends
Perhaps this column will be an example of how to lose friends–but this is really important. There are times that being right isn't as important as being tactful. Over the last few weeks, as I write this column, there have been at least two incidents where those showing up at political events to protest Obama's health care reform program have been openly armed–one of them at an event in Phoenix where President Obama was speaking. 1
People who have not had anything to say about guns suddenly are asking questions such as, "Do Guns At Political Events Disturb You? Then Consider Skipping Arizona For Now." 2
Now, I am aware that the man carrying an AR-15 slung over his back in Phoenix didn't fit the redneck stereotype that news accounts tried to portray–many of which implied that the armed protesters were upset about a black man was in the White House. (The man with the AR-15 was about as black as his rifle.) 3
And yes, in both these situations, in Phoenix, and in New Hampshire, open carry is not just completely legal–the courts of the respective states have recognized that open carry is protected by the right to keep and bear arms provisions of the respective state constitutions.
But I want you to think back to some television commercials run some years back that emphasized the importance of both defensive driving, and being a bit less aggressive in your driving style. They emphasized that, ìYou may be clearly in the right in an accident you are involved in, dead right. î This is one of those times.
Americans have become very squeamish about guns over the last several decades–and it isn't just because the mass media have been propagandizing for gun control. There are a lot of people who have been victims of violence, or who are next of kin of victims of violence. In my experience, survivors of violent gun crimes respond in one of two ways: "Guns are evil. They must be banned!" or "I will be armed next time, and that monster won't survive." The reactions, in both cases, tend to be quite strong.
You and I can engage the first point of view with rational discussion of the failure of gun control laws to disarm the bad guys, and over time, we may be successful in persuading such a person that restrictive gun control doesn't work. But even if we win them over to our side, do not expect someone who has looked down the barrel of a gun wielded by a criminal to react dispassionately to seeing a gun over which he or she has no control in a public place. The next of kin of victims of violent gun crimes seem to be far more likely to respond with the first reaction than with the second–and it is part of the reason that under the best of conditions, gun control groups seem to have so many grieving parents and siblings in them.
I've had my share of conversations with gun control advocates over the years, and I've listened to their stories. Overwhelmingly, they didn't just wake up one morning and decide that guns were bad. There's usually a tragedy that struck close to home. You and I can look at their reaction and see that they came to the wrong conclusion–but you can understand that once someone has come to that wrong conclusion, seeing guns is going to provoke a strong and negative emotional response.
I have long felt that open carry, if you have some other choice, is a political mistake, and for this very reason. There are lots of Americans who have discomfort or misgivings about gun ownership. They may know that lots of Americans have concealed handgun permits, and that they are probably walking the streets with people that are armed. But it isn't obvious; the gun isnít proclaiming its presence. The visceral reaction that some Americans have to seeing people openly armed is not going to win you any friends–and may turn some people against gun ownership.
Let me draw an analogy that a lot of you may find unpleasant. About 3% of Americans are homosexuals. I don't approve of homosexuality, for a variety of reasons. I know that a pretty sizeable fraction of Americans share my views on this. We know what homosexuals are doing behind closed doors, and we generally accept that, however much we disapprove of that conduct, it isn't the government's job to tell consenting adults what they can do in private. Most homosexuals in America appear to know this; like you and me, they are more interested in living their lives than they are in making political points.
A small number of homosexual activists make rather a point of going the opposite direction. They hold "kiss-ins," with very public displays of affection, intended to desensitize straight America. I used to be pretty open-minded about homosexuality, but living in the San Francisco Bay Area, and seeing video of the San Francisco gay pride parades, so shocked and disgusted me that I am now pretty strongly disapproving. (And my guess is that many of you who are as open-minded as I was, would probably change your opinion, if you saw those videos.)
Open carry in an urban setting, when you have some realistic alternative available (such as concealed carry), is rather like a homosexual "kiss-in." The supporters are convinced that doing so makes Americans more tolerant and open-minded to the subject. I'm convinced that for every person who gets used to it, there are two who are repelled. In July of 2008, one of the open carry advocacy groups held an open carry event at the Zoo here in Boise, carrying loaded and holstered firearms. This is about as gun friendly a city as probably exists in the USA–and the reaction to it was about the same as if a bunch of same-sex couples had started passionately kissing and necking in front of the monkey cage. It wasn't illegal–but it sure took people that didn't think about the issue much, and made them unhappy.
Carrying a holstered handgun in Phoenix is apparently pretty common. It isn't the norm, but it isn't particularly shocking. Carrying an AR-15 slung over your back in Phoenix, however, I'm guessing is pretty unusual. Carrying one outside an event where President Obama is speaking? This is equivalent to some of the really disgusting stuff that you see in gay pride parades.
It is shocking and disturbing not because President Obama is black, but because there is a long history of assassination attempts on the President, starting with the January 30, 1835 attempt on Andrew Jackson's life,4 on former President Teddy Roosevelt,5 on President Truman, President Nixon,6 President Reagan, and former President George H. W. Bush. 7 All of the successful assassinations–such as the deaths of Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, and Kennedy–were carried out with guns.
There are places where open carry is perfectly sensible. No one is terribly shocked to see Americans armed while hunting, while target shooting, or in rural areas, in many states. I can remember a time when I would hike in the forests or the deserts of California with a Colt Government Model in a hip holster.
There are circumstances where concealed carry is not legal, but open carry is allowed. In some states, people started to carry openly as a way to remind the legislature that it needed to pass a concealed carry permit law. In a few cases, I know of people who were over 18, but under 21, and thus ineligible for a concealed carry permit. Yet they had reason to be concerned with their safety, and chose to carry openly, because they had no legal alternative. I'm not talking about those situations when I criticize open carry–I'm talking about the situations where open carry is considered disturbing, you have the option of having your gun concealed, and you choose to carry openly.
If we reach the point where we need to be armed to engage in the terrifying scenario that the Second Amendment was written to make possible–the overthrow of a tyrannical government–then I expect everyone who loves his country to be armed and ready. But as a form of political statement, in cities, and especially in proximity to the President–this is just dumb. It makes gun owners look crazy, and drives some people who are indifferent into opposition to gun ownership. Don't be stupid.
re: Your Shotgun News column.
"Don't be stupid" yourself, Clayton. As a firearms owner, you haven't got any friends.
Clayton, I must start by saying I have admired your work over the years. But the fact of the matter is that you are all wet on this, homosexual analogies most especially.
By what objective standard do you place hope on winning friends and influencing people to the Founders' view of the right to arms? Opinion polls? True, the numbers supporting the individual right to arms has risen recently. But don't you think that's because people who feel uneasy about the future marginally shift toward firearm's freedom simply because they want to ensure their own access to guns if they need them? Even liberals are buying guns these days. That doesn't mean they are willing to sacrifice anything for YOUR liberties.
There is an existential fear abroad in the land now, and it doesn't come entirely from Obama or his socialist weasel gun-banning friends. It comes from trillion dollar deficits, printing money to monetize the debt and an understanding that we are at least two separate countries now, not one.
We are far more fundamentally divided as a people than we were in 1775 or even 1861. If we cannot agree on the sanctity of life or whether all blessings flow from leviathan government then does anything else we DO agree on really matter?
And how has being polite and working within the political system been working out for our side these past 75 years, hmm? Each time we were shoved back and robbed of some small slice of our traditional God-given liberties, we backed up, grumbling. So why shouldn't the enemies of the Founders' republic continue doing that? We haven't shoved back, now have we?
You want a homosexual analogy? How about the circle-jerk relationship between the GOP and the NRA? How'd you like that endorsement in New York the other day? These guys are french-kissing each other every day of the week, and what has it gotten US, the vast majority of firearms owners over the years? What bill of firearms infringement HASN'T the NRA tried to float a compromise on instead of fighting all out?
The time has come, my public relations-mesmerized friend to lay down the marker. I was once asked by a gun-banner for the short version of my notion of gun control. I thought for a moment and said, "If you try to take our firearms we will kill you."
The people who seek to slake their appetites with our property and liberty -- even at the threat of our lives -- will not stop until convinced of the personal cost of their gluttony. It seems to me that exercising one's legal right to carry openly is very good way of getting the point across without risking violence.
A brief study of history should convince you that the affairs of men are decided -- for good or ill -- by determined minorities. Just as the Founders discovered in their struggle, for they only became a majority AFTER THEY WON. Thus it will be with us.
The other side believes in "democracy," majority rule, and they believe because they have won the last two elections they can tell us what to do, where to go, how to act, and insist that we pay for the privilege and grin while we're about it. The result? Tea parties. Raucous town halls. And yes, people legally packing heat at public events.
Open carry scares people? Good. It ought to. Perhaps they'll be reminded of the fact that when "democracy" turns to tyranny, firearms owners still get to vote. And they should understand that they don't want to go down that road.
But how will they get the message if we don't deliver it because we are made too timid by some misplaced need to be liked? Free men don't need to be liked. They don't ask to be liked. They don't care if they're liked. They do insist upon being respected. The reason we find ourselves in this position right now is because we haven't insisted on exercising our rights. We haven't demanded respect from people who have been picking our pockets and shoving us around.
If someone tells you they are scared by open carry as a protest against future infringements, tell them that's OK. It is really the least of their worries. It is when we no longer feel that political protest is worthwhile that they should really begin to worry.
Clayton, this isn't about media PR anymore. It is not about being liked. We are two peoples with two distinct and violently different world views, two visions of the future that are mutually exclusive. The other people need to understand that they will continue to push us around at their peril.
My friend Billy Beck put it succinctly. He said that all politics in this country now is merely rehearsal for civil war. If you wish to avoid that war, as I do, you'll help me convince the other side that one is possible and that it has personal consequences for them. Otherwise they will stumble into starting one, and the results will be ghastly.
And if you, or they, think that another civil war in this country is not possible, they, or you, are whistling past the graveyard of history. And there are open graves within, waiting to be filled by the foolhardy and the timid, as well as those of tyrannical appetite. THAT is what should scare people, not some law-abiding citizens exercising their legal rights in public.