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Effectively Changing Minds

I think some people are misconstruing what I’m saying in regards to changing minds and pushing people’s comort levels.  I am not suggesting that we, as gun owners, have to always be accommodating to people’s sensibilities, and I’m certainly not saying we should never push people’s comfort zones.  But I think it’s foolish not to be aware of them, or to have no regard for them, especially in a medium that’s more prone to soundbites and memes than actual discussion.  But let’s look quickly at one of the thoughtful arguments made in the comments:

Imagine the following was written in the early 1960s, and change a few terms.

“We can’t have people openly violating laws on buses or at lunch counters. We can’t get this radical over our rights, even if they are rights. The white people outnumber us by the millions. They out vote us.

We’ll never convince the white people to accept us if we keep having people on “our side” doing stupid things like sit-ins at lunch counters, violating state laws on public buses, or blocking public roadways with organized marches.

That kind of radical behavior will only cause more backlash against us, and won’t accomplish anything.

It’s sad we have such radicals messing up our public image like this.”

There’s a great difference between standing up for your civil rights, and engaging in civil disobedience, and what these armed protesters are doing.  There’s a difference in both the moral gravity of what they are doing, and in the strategic implications of each act.

Let me first concentrate on the analogy from a moral perspective.  Open carry is not unlawful.  In fact, in Arizona, as it is in most states, it’s a constitutionally protected right.  It is not an act of defiance or civil disobedience to show up at a public event and engage in a shocking, but legal activity.  There is no civil right being defended, because, as far as I am aware, there is no serious movement to make open carry illegal in Arizona.  If this guy had just been a man in the crowd open carrying a pistol, hey, it’s Arizona, and I would have agreed the press was just out looking for an issue.  But that becomes different when you sling a rifle on your back and head out looking for the press.  By contrast, Rosa Parks was committing an act of civil disobedience.  It was illegal for her to refuse to move to the back of the bus.  Same with the folks who refused to sit at the “right” lunch counter.  These were people who were prepared to suffer the consequences for violating an immoral and unjust law.  These incidents can’t be compared to that.

I also think you have to look at the strategic implications of getting people to accept your point of view.  Nearly all people can understand why someone would want to be treated as an equal member of society, and be afforded the dignity of not being treated like a second class citizen because of a condition of birth.  While there are certainly many parallels that can be drawn, and lessons that can be learned between our struggle, and the struggle to end Jim Crow, I do not think you can make direct comparisons.  Gun ownership is not a condition of birth.  You choose whether or not to be a gun owner.  Sure, you have a right to choose that, and I certainly don’t believe we should acquiesce to that right being stomped on, but it’s not the same, and I doubt most people would view it the same.

We also have issues we can use to appeal to ordinary people to accept our point of view.  Most people can understand wanting to protect themselves and their families.  Americans, quite uniquely among peoples of the world, generally don’t believe in relying exclusively or nearly exclusively on community protection.  Even very liberal Americans tend to understand this, even if guns make them uncomfortable.   Most people also understand having a pastime, hobby or interests, and generally aren’t all that interested in interfering with someone else’s enjoyment.  If this wasn’t the case, the gun control movement wouldn’t  have had to go to great lengths to convince the public that the gun controls they propose won’t affect people’s pastimes, or their ability to protect themselves.  When we push people’s comfort zones based on these kinds of common values, I think we can win people over.  But you have to appeal to a common value.  Few men were better than this than Martin Luther King, who’s strategy involved appealing to the very American “all men are created equal” and then shaming his country for not living up to the very values we pretended to care about.

If we are to win this struggle, it will have to be through common American values, and there I think we have a lot more to work with than the other side.  But I don’t think there’s any context in which most people can understand taking a loaded rifle to a political rally.  I think we’re lucky if most people are taking this for the publicity stunt that it is.  In that context, most people can probably understand it and dismiss it.  But political violence is a touchy thing for most of the public, and there’s no appeal to it that’s going to find acceptance.  Gun rights has to be a mainstream issue if it’s going to win out in the end.  If it’s seen as a fringe issue, exercised by “dangerous” people, we’re going to suffer for it over the long run.

21 Responses to “Effectively Changing Minds”

  1. Bitter says:

    I would point out that the example of Rosa Parks was an example of a pre-planned legal strategy. She was not a lone woman fed up with moving to the back of the bus. There was a larger legal plan to back her up and fight that fight.

  2. thebastidge says:

    “But that becomes different when you sling a rifle on your back and head out looking for the press. By contrast, Rosa Parks was committing an act of civil disobedience. It was illegal for her to refuse to move to the back of the bus. Same with the folks who refused to sit at the “right” lunch counter. These were people who were prepared to suffer the consequences for violating an immoral and unjust law. These incidents can’t be compared to that.”

    They absolutely can. A right not exercised is a right in danger of being lost. It may not be quite the same thing, but it is on the same continuum.

    “Gun bigotry” does exist, but I agree with you that carrying a gun is a choice, a behaviour that one can choose when and where to engage in, unlike, being a different race.

    There’s value in what this guy did. It is spurring debate, within our community and more widely. He may convince some fence-sitters to come our way. He may convince some to go the other way. Personally, I won’t be allowed to do what he did, but I would have no problem doing something similar. I doubt I would carry a rifle with me. A sign is less controversial and more visible, and I think it is a better tactic for me. But the marketplace of ideas takes different points of view.

  3. Little Steve says:

    Stop the double talk. You’re clearly anti-gun and in the pocket of the Brady campaign if you don’t think the best strategy to bring the anti-gun voters over to our side is to carry AR 15’s everywhere we go!

    (that was a joke)

  4. Little Steve says:

    Lost my “zumbo” tags to the above.

  5. Sebastian says:

    A right not exercised is a right in danger of being lost.

    This is a common meme in our community. But is it true? I haven’t exercised my Third Amendment rights ever, but I wouldn’t say I’m in danger of having to accept soldiers into my house. I haven’t exercised my freedom of religion in quite some time. I will never exercise the judicially created right to an abortion. Never had the opportunity to be tried by a jury, or demand a government agent come back with a warrant. Never had someone try to sell me into slavery either.

    Rights are dependent on exercising them, they are dependent on doing the hard work to convince people to prevent the government from infringing on them.

  6. Joe says:

    Every once in awhile I think you get it. This isn’t one of those times. All I can say is what a pile of horsesh*t.

    Oh, and on the impact of MLK ….
    I notice you conveniently left out the impact the Black Panthers and the Deacons of Defense had on public opinion.
    Two black groups who were always heavily armed at public political events and who scared the bejeusus out of avg. middle class white folk to the point that a leftist looked like the sane choice.
    MLK didn’t win because he was right, he won because the majority of the middle class were scared to death of the alternative.
    I remember the fear of the riots and the possibility of upcoming civil war.
    I remember cities planning to physically contain “black revolutionaries”. Why do you think limited access ring roads around urban cores suddenly became so popular in the mid-60’s?
    Don’t delude yourself we will “win people over” or that we have “common values”.

    History says otherwise.

  7. Sebastian says:

    Joe:

    The Black Panthers are the reason there’s no open carry in California, and then you have the Gun Control Act of 1968, which was spurred by a lot of those fears. I don’t agree the reason the Civil Rights Movement won is because white America were afraid of the black man.

  8. Jessup says:

    With regard to the civil rights era analogies, I experienced those times as a young adult, and I know how the white people around me here in the North thought. I come from a lower class working family. I’d say we were racist, as was typical for the era, but benignly so, if such a thing is possible. I.e., we weren’t haters, and we had a good deal of empathy for poor blacks, with whom we socialized to some extent. Nonetheless I remember the reaction to the sit-ins, etc., as being offense that black people were “going too far” and more or less “getting uppity.” In other words, my perception was that the effect of the demonstrations on the working class was to turn their opinion against civil rights. Yet today. my perception is that it was the most radical things, including the riots (I saw Trenton burning in April, 1968, right after being shot at the only time in my life) that were what were necessary to move civil rights forward legislatively. Our opinions didn’t count for a lot.

    I’m not going to say that is a perfect, or even good, analogy for the RKBA movement, but I am offering it to call to question our assumptions about what moved civil rights 40 – 50 years ago.

  9. Linoge says:

    If it’s seen as a fringe issue, exercised by “dangerous” people, we’re going to suffer for it over the long run.

    Was Chris coming across as a fringe individual?

    Was he coming across as dangerous?

    If not, then why are you focusing on how this could be viewed, and why are you not focusing on how it is being viewed? Hell, the worst I have seen from any newscast or article thus far was just the talking heads and writers questioning why someone would feel the need to carry a rifle – just like they question why people carry pistols. All of them have been stressing how this was legal. All of them have been stressing how the police had no problems with it. All of them have been stressing how the Secret Service knew and did not consider it a threat. Aside from the standard “ZOMG, itzagun!” response that we have grown accustomed to on everything, the news coverage of this particular event has been, dare I say, neutral and possibly even trending towards positive in some cases, given how people are being educated about laws and issues.

    Here you are, presented with a prime example of a free citizen doing exactly that which all of us pro-rights activists have always maintained that free citizens can do: lawfully carry a firearm peacefully, safely, and politely in public. Hell, Chris even accomplished the feat using one of the most reviled and demonized firearms in our country, and yet he still came off as respectful, responsible, and reasonable.

    So here we have an event that should be celebrated, learned from, and spread to the four winds as the way things should work, and you are crying in a fresh glass of milk that has not even seen the floor.

    *scratches head* “Effectively” changing minds is all good and well, but actively doing your damnest to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory is not going to help you a whole lot at that.

  10. Sebastian says:

    Jessup:

    The Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964. There was one act passed in 1968, which forbade discrimination in housing, but the landmark civil rights act of that era was passed long before Trenton and other cities burned.

  11. mostlygenius says:

    @Linoge:

    I sure hope you are correct about this. I would hate to see the next town hall meeting protested by camouflage clad lunatics frothing at the mouth and making idle threats, while getting their fifteen minutes on national news. I think we got lucky that the people that have open carried to these protests we savvy and articulate. If this is going to continue lets hope that luck holds.

  12. Sebastian says:

    Linoge:

    I don’t think this is coming off as well as you think. I don’t think it’s a disaster to the degree that it’s going to create a sudden movement to ban open carry, but I think it could if this continues to escalate.

  13. Retardo says:

    OK, if you don’t “get” what Sebastian is saying here, try showing video of a balls-out (not a figure of speech) gay pride march in San Francisco to a middle-of-the-road middle-American maiden aunt from the Midwest who’s starting to think gays should be left in peace because aren’t causing any trouble that she’s aware of.

    I promise you, she’s not comfortable with that stuff, and suddenly dousing her with it won’t change that.

  14. Jessup says:

    Sebastian:

    Just for historical refreshment on all our parts, there were four major riots in 1963 and 1964. But it is interesting to note that the three riots in 1964 came almost immediately after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which passed on July 2, 1964.

    1963: Cambridge riot of 1963
    1964: Harlem Riot
    1964: Rochester riot
    1964: Philadelphia 1964 race riot

    Through the rest of the ’60s there were almost too many riots to count, with a great number of them concentrated around the assassination of MLK in 1968. The Trenton riot, which I chose to cite only because I happened to witness some of it personally (from a distance; across the river) after being shot at in my house, was one of the MLK reactions.

    While the Civil Rights Act of 1964 may have been the “landmark,” I well recall that working class popular opinion throughout that period was turning sharply against blacks. I believe in the 1968 election, when Richard Nixon was elected to his first term, George Wallace got something like 13 percent of the national vote. My perception remains that a good deal of white anger was aroused by what was perceived as continuing accommodation of black demands, “landmark” or not, despite what was regarded as their anti-social behavior. Yet they were accommodated, for better or worse.

    Just for the sake of memory-lane tripping, I will never forget the picture on the front page of The Stars and Stripes in 1967, of towering flames over a city, with four-inch headlines declaring “Civil War!” We’d have to go a ways to match that, in terms of negative public perceptions.

  15. Sebastian says:

    Just for the sake of memory-lane tripping, I will never forget the picture on the front page of The Stars and Stripes in 1967, of towering flames over a city, with four-inch headlines declaring “Civil War!” We’d have to go a ways to match that, in terms of negative public perceptions.

    That’s definitely true. I can’t imagine anything like that now.

  16. Peter says:

    Have your page views been down? I mean, what is this recurring need to scold others who don’t Walk The Sebastian Walk?

    You’re a leading gun blogger, not a leader. Agreement, even sychophancy in the comments does not a plebescite make.

    You’re concerned with the Helmkes, MSNBCs, the whole odious lot going bonkers over this? It’s what they do. It’s all they have, so of course they’re gonna howl.

    Why do you need to join them?

    Mister AR Over The Shoulder might have been wrong about what he did, but you’re wrong for making a stink over it. Perhaps you’re entirely right in your reaction from a suburban Pennsylvanian aspect, but most of America isn’t suburban PA.

    Did you notice that he didn’t go on a bullet spraying rampage, complete with the shoot-down of an airliner full of children? Neither did the media. They’re too busy with the whole ZOMG! A nekkid gun!!1!! nonsense. You didn’t need to join in.

    The pictures of him are a plus. I hate to say this, but his skin color is an even bigger plus. I just hope he doesn’t have a pick-up truck with a gun rack in it, otherwise we’ll never be rid of that stereotype.

  17. Sebastian says:

    Peter:

    I stand up for what I believe in. I’m sorry if that offends you.

  18. thebastidge says:

    “Never had the opportunity to be tried by a jury”

    Ever contested a speeding ticket? You can’t get a jury trial for that, because it wasn’t insisted on when traffic courts started appearing. So it’s your word against a cop, and I have had a judge tell me straight up, “My cops don’t lie.”

    As for the rest of those things you list, particularly 3rd Amendment, it was put in the Constitution because it happened, not because it’s at the top of the list of things people think about today when philosophizing about civil rights. It should never have been an issue- shouldn’t have happened in the first place, and being written into the Constitution is probably an overreaction, given that peoiple’s right to be secure in their homes is mentioned elsewhere.

    But it was important enough at the time to mention, because it happened. It could happen again, without a public perception that it would be severely wrong.

    “I haven’t exercised my freedom of religion in quite some time.”

    You marched to church last Sunday to avoid being put in the stocks?

    “Rights aren’t {ed.} dependent on exercising them, they are dependent on doing the hard work to convince people to prevent the government from infringing on them.”

    Part of which is showing that they are a normal and necessary part of life. Which means demonstrating their use. “Exercising” them. You can disagree with the guy, and others in the open carry movement. That’s you’re right. But others will criticize your attitude as well.

  19. Kevin S says:

    This wasn’t civil disobedience. The man broke no law. More power to him.

  20. mikeb302000 says:

    Sebastian, It’s a pleasure to read your take on things, as usual. In my opinion, this was a stupid publicity stunt that didn’t do the gun-rights movement any good at all.

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