Dear Young Person,
I hear that you support gun rights. Maybe you’re from a rural area and don’t want to lose the guns you use for hunting and target practice. Maybe you’re from a red state and don’t own a gun but want to protect the constitutional rights of others. Likely you’re neither but have come to your convictions through your own personal combination of experience, values, and ideology.
Regardless, as you witness the media and your teachers grant sainthood to your telegenic age-mates for their “courageous” stand on gun control, it must hurt and anger to be bombarded with their slander that the blood of victims from recent school murders drips from your hands. Or hear the smear that you can’t possibly hold your views and also want to end school shootings as much as they do. Or see everything you’ve learned about respect for dissent be dismissed in a heartbeat.
So, I’m writing to you because I want you to stand strong as you stand alone. If you find the following comments useful or comforting, this post will serve its purpose.
First, remember the lines from Rudyard’s Kipling’s poem If about keeping your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, and then later about making allowance for their doubting, too. To that end, who will be your model: allies behaving as badly your most offensive adversaries or your adversaries seeking a civil and solutions-oriented dialogue? I personally choose the latter and have learned that nothing serves peace of mind and hope for being listened to better than to develop an “absurdly moderate” disposition.That’s moderate disposition, not necessarily moderate convictions.
When your time comes to advocate for your gun rights positions, you need to be ready. For example, a social studies teacher might require you to write an elected representative to encourage them to vote for your position (as opposed to the teacher who required students only in favor of gun control).
So what will you say when you get the chance? All my training emphasizes that successful advocacy depends on the story, the facts, and the ask.
The story humanizes your views and augments your credibility. Here’s what I mean. A friend of mine lives in a rough neighborhood and rationally fears that her home might be invaded. Her husband is often out of town, so she took a self-defense class that included using pepper spray and handguns. She’s never too happy when she hears about proposed laws that limit her gun’s capacity knowing that someday she might face three or four attackers, all of whom are maximizing their own lethality.
The facts include emotionally detached statistics and findings that indicate that what you’re advocating could plausibly produce effective policy. For example, Americans own something like 300,000,000 guns and there are roughly 30,000 gun deaths a year, including murders, suicides, and accidents. That means that only about one in every 10,000 guns ever actually kills anyone. That’s a very small number that forces a useful question: Where should we spend our limited resources to have the biggest impact on preventing gun deaths? (By the way, finding numbers on assault-style weapons is no easy task. Slate suggests there may be close to 4,000,000 of them, but the number of murders committed with these weapons is so low that nobody knows how many there are.)
Additionally, the Washington Post recently reviewed all mass shootings in the U. S. since 2012 and found that proposed gun control laws wouldn’t have prevented any of them.
Keep in mind that an absurdly moderate disposition doesn’t mean you never employ rhetorical tools. It might be uncomfortable to your adversaries, but don’t hesitate to play their own words back at them. When they say all they want are common sense reforms, you might ask, “How much common sense is involved in promoting policies that aren’t needed 9,999 times of 10,000 and haven’t demonstrated their efficacy anyway?”
The ask answers your audience’s question, “So what?” by encouraging them to take some specific action. You might ask a representative to write, introduce, or support Gun Violence Restraining Order laws or demand that current laws such as those banning trafficking and straw purchasing be rigorously enforced instead of taking weapons from law-abiding citizens.
As you weave your way into the tapestry of public advocacy, keep in mind two things. First, back to Kipling. His poem warns you to expect to hear the truths you’ve spoken twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools. Beware that some of the truth-twisting knaves will be opportunistic allies who seek to trap you as their fool and their tool. So, be alert and ready to stand up to them as well as to your adversaries.
Finally, never cease weighing your own opinions and behavior against the highest standards you know. It will be humbling how often you find yourself lacking, but as Ken Robinson says, “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”
And original thinking is exactly what the debate over gun rights needs.
August “Sandy” Merz, NBCT