An Open Letter to a Young Gun Rights Advocate

Sandy Merz Current Affairs, Social Issues

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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



I grew up in Silver City, New Mexico and went the University of New Mexico, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Geology. After working for the U.S. Geological Survey in remote regions of western New Mexico, I moved to Tucson to attend graduate school at the University of Arizona, earning a Master of Science degree in Hydrogeology. While working as an intern hydrologist for a local county agency, I started doing volunteer work that involved making presentations in schools. At that moment I knew teaching was the path to follow. It must have been a good decision because I’m still on the path after thirty-two years. My teaching certificates are in math and science and I am a National Board Certified Teacher in Career and Technical Education. After teaching engineering and math and elective classes at the same school in downtown Tucson my whole career, I've moved to a different middle school and district on the edge of town to teach math. In addition to full time teaching, I am actively involved in the teacher leadership movement by facilitating National Board candidates, blogging for Stories from School Arizona, and serving on the Arizona K12 Center’s TeacherSolutions team. In January 2017, Raytheon Missile System named me a Leader in Education and I'm a former Arizona Hope Street Fellow.

Comments 9

  1. Donnie Lee

    You mention that common sense gun reform laws are not needed 9,999 out 10,000 times. According to this, it is very low probability that gun reform will have any impact. However, you also mention a friend of yours that lives in a rough neighborhood and you use the story that she may need to protect herself against 3 or 4 adversaries. How many of her neighbors have been attacked by 3 or 4 adversaries? What is the actual probability that she will need a high capacity gun to protect herself? I have been alive for close to 40 years and have yet to have an encounter where I needed a gun. The probability of me needing a gun at some point is 1 in a ___________. That one chance may make it all worthwhile to have gun. However, if that one time makes it important for me to have a gun, that 1 out of 10,000 is just as important to protect a life.

    1. Sandy Merz

      Actually, my argument – or the argument I suggest a young advocate is to point out that banning guns compared to finding the people that are at high risk of using guns to kill people, including themselves, isn’t common sense. The risk for being a victim is very small, but not equally small everywhere. That’s a good parallel to risk of a given gun being used to kill. I’m sure you could find some crackpot somewhere who says that by law everyone should own a gun, and argue that it’s common sense because one in 10,000 may be a victim some day.

  2. Bryce Brothers

    This is a beautifully written, unique, take on a very controversial topic, and I don’t mean gun control. While the topic of gun control is incredibly controversial, especially while inside the walls of a school, it is merely the catalyst for an issue I see regularly taking place in schools. As topics become sensationalized and a clear line is drawn, it becomes a battle of one side versus the other. Young, impressionable minds tend to jump on these sensationalized topics and pick a side based on opinions. One side of any argument becomes the more popular view, and while many are standing proud, arms linked with most of their peers, a few are left wondering if their opinion even matters at all.
    It is important to encourage students to be free thinkers and to cultivate ideas even if they are not popular, but it is also important to teach them to thoughtfully consider how they will respond to critics of their ideas.

    1. Sandy Merz

      Thanks, Bryce. You should see the draft I wrote in the immediate aftermath of the Parkland killings. It was largely a vent and pretty sarcastic. I’m glad I waited a couple of weeks to give it some distance and make it more focused on our responsibility as teachers to enable students to the free thinkers who cultivate even unpopular ideas, like you say. Thanks again.

  3. Angelia

    This piece sure gets my attention! I only feel the need to protect myself am happy to say I have never felt the need to protect myself except from coyotes that roam my neighborhood while Im trying to get my physical fitness going early in the morning or while out walking my pint size pups in the evening. I hope to never find myself in a situation where I felt differently, or more comfortable, about owning a gun. They exist, they are a thing, and I advocate strongly for screening, training, and responsibility. Thank you for your passion.

    1. Sandy Merz

      You, know, I’ve never had any interest in owning a gun or felt the need to. But one time at a training, the friend I mentioned and I were walking through a city and took a short cut through a park that looked safe enough from the outside. But once we were in the middle we could see there was a lot of drug-dealing going on, and the whole place got us both pretty nervous. I don’t know if she had her gun with her, but she kept her pepper spray in her hand, and I was glad for it. And I’m very glad she had the training, screening, and viewed herself as being responsible for her own safety.

  4. Angela Buzan

    I think you set out to advocate for the unpopular position of gun control, but a reverse outline of your post works reveals advise that could be universal:
    1) inventory your values and experience
    2) carefully craft your rhetoric; communicate your position
    3) engage in civil dialogue and humanize your views
    4) ultimately reframe the narrative.

    1. Sandy Merz

      Angela, you know that SFS writers don’t advocate. Granted the post may appear to advocate for gun rights (not gun control), but that’s tangential to the larger steps you’ve identified. Sometime you need to explain what a reverse outline is to me. Sounds like a good tool to know. PS – being a gun rights advocate isn’t an unpopular position everywhere.

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