So apparently a guy decided to show up today to an Obama speech in Arizona while carrying a pistol and a semiautomatic rifle
. (He didn't want to give reporters his name, but that's him in the foreground in the picture over there.) Good for him! He and William Kostric
have both conducted themselves admirably, declaring for all to see, "I am a citizen who is well-informed of my rights and responsibilities under the law, and I will acquit myself in a law-abiding fashion." We need more upstanding citizens like these guys.
This afternoon, on Twitter, I was reminded of why.
See, although I've never hidden the fact that I love the Second Amendment and believe that it's one of the most important founding principles of American government, I've never really gone out of my way to engage people about it like some of y'all
are wont to do. I prefer to do my activism on a one-on-one basis, by shaking up people's expectations. If you've never been around guns, if none of your friends are gun owners, if your only exposure to guns has been violent movies and reports on the six o'clock news about people being shot during robberies, it's easy to think of gun owners as Those People who Aren't Like Us. It's easy to conflate gun owners with closed-minded rednecks who would rather put a bullet through a queer or a feminist or an anti-war protestor than have to live in the same society as them.
It's a bit different when you find out that the woman who just walked three miles through the streets of San Francisco with you in the Trans Pride March, who goes to raves with you and wants drug laws to be completely overhauled and blogs in favour of gay rights, is just as proud of being a responsible gun owner.
I found out about the fellow in Arizona through someone I don't actually know: some guy on Twitter who started following me yesterday. He had some interesting links, so I followed him back, and he tweeted a link to an article about the guy in Arizona. I tweeted back that as long as he conducted himself peacefully, that was great news. This kicked off an hour-plus-long debate which, apart from a couple of interchanges with antagonistic people at a Diversity Fair at the University of Iowa where some friends and I had a booth representing the gun culture, was really the first frustrating
conversation about guns I've ever had. I guess I'm lucky.
See, in the Sassaman household we have two rules for houseguests: if you use the stove, make sure you turn it to the "off" position that really is "off" and not the "off" that leaks gas, and you must understand the four rules of firearm safety and show us that you can safely unload the guns we keep in the house. That's it. You can use our shampoo, if it's in the fridge it's fair game, we don't mind if you walk out of the shower in the altogether -- but we expect and require you to know how to be safe with the two dangerous things in the house. We'll teach you basic gun safety and step you through all the physical stuff, as many times as you need or want, but if you're not willing to do that, you're going to need to find somewhere else to crash. (We'll help with that too.)
It's pleasantly surprising just how much this opens people's eyes: discovering that wow, there actually are People Like Us, people who share Our Values and fight for the same things we fight for, who are also passionate about gun rights. I don't know exactly what goes through their heads, but I like to think it's something along the lines of, Huh. Maybe guns aren't as scary and alien as I always thought they were. Maybe they really are just tools, just inanimate objects that take on meaning only in the context of whoever's holding them.
You know, like a dude in Arizona carrying a pistol in a holster and a semiautomatic rifle in a resting position over one shoulder with the barrel pointed safely at the ground.
What I didn't expect, today, was just how much context some folks want to assume, even in the absence of any evidence whatsoever to support those assumptions. Twitter-guy ranted, angrily and at length, about a "greasy redneck cowboy" he'd seen in a grocery store the other day, openly carrying while doing his shopping. He accused this man -- who he didn't exchange a single word with -- of being "afraid" and "paranoid", and said that he "was sorely tempted to grab it and make him shit his cowboy pants."
I was flabbergasted. "Wait," I said, "so you think it's OK to just walk up to some dude in a supermarket and assault him if you don't like what he's holding?" Well, yeah, apparently he did. That blows my mind. If you wouldn't walk up to some dude in a supermarket and snatch his backpack off his shoulder, why on earth would you walk up to some dude in a supermarket and snatch his gun off his hip? (Uh, or try to. Good luck with that, by the way.)
The conversation continued, with Twitter Guy launching invective left and right, while I did my level best to answer his rhetoric with reason, his anger with level-headedness. I won't recap the whole thing here -- you can go read it on Twitter if you really want to -- but the one thing that really struck me, throughout the conversation, was the sheer depth of his conviction that those of us who support gun ownership and the right to carry in public do so out of fear
. He labelled me "insane", he labelled gun owners of his acquaintance as "paranoid" and "nutcases". I shrugged off the name-calling -- dignifying it with a response never helps -- but he kept coming back to it, again and again, demanding to know why someone would carry a gun in public if they weren't
afraid of something.
At the end of the conversation, just before I called a halt and went to dinner, we were on the subject of when it would or wouldn't be appropriate to use a firearm in self-defense in a built-up area. "If there's a rapist in my face," I said, "I'll take that chance." And when I got back from dinner, what do you know, a snarky response about "See, you claim you're not afraid, but your words say differently."
That, ladies and gentlemen, pissed me the hell off. I don't know about the rest of y'all, but I do
know women who have been violently raped by complete strangers. (I won't out them here; that's their choice, not mine.) I'd trade my right arm for the chance to go back in time and make sure they had a loaded handgun and the skills to use it on the night they were raped. You know why? Because trying to frame the discussion about self-defence rights in terms of "fear" versus "lack of fear" is more than disingenous, it's an out-and-out lie. English has words like "concern" and "qualm" and "doubt" and "dread" and "paranoia" and "unease" because fear is not a binary, it's a continuum. We have the phrase "healthy concern" because there is such a thing
. I'm "afraid" of being in a situation where I might need to defend myself with deadly force the same way I'm "afraid" of having my bad ankle go out under me and dump me on my keister in the street: I wear stiff boots to keep my ankle from buckling, and when I'm in a situation where it's lawful for me to do so, I carry a handgun.
So I told him his male privilege was showing, and that was the end of that.
I support gun rights because I support civil rights, plain and simple. I cheer every time a woman plugs a would-be rapist, every time a PoC plugs someone trying to assault them because of the colour of their skin, every time a queer plugs a would-be gay-basher. It's not that I especially like violence; the bare truth of it is that some people will listen to nothing else. Some people hear "it's wrong to physically harm people because of the colour of their skin, or what's between their legs, or because of who they love" and it just slides right off as if they'd never heard it. Am I saying "let's go shoot all the racists"? If you think that, you haven't been listening: firearms are a tool for self-defence
, and I don't mean "the best ~ is a good offence". Nobody likes to admit it, but if you're a minority in the United States, there are people who believe, as surely as they believe that the sun will come up in the east tomorrow, that your mere existence is a killin' offense. These people are wrong
, and if one of them attacks your person, then for God's sake just shoot the motherfucker. If just ten percent of the gays and lesbians in America were to learn how to shoot and carry handguns, there'd be a lot fewer Matthew Shepard
s or Paul Broussard
s or Brandon Teena
s or ... well, you can read up for yourself
if you don't already know.
This is what William Kostric means, by the way, when he says "an armed society is a polite society." And so do I.
But I wonder, because I know some of you reading disagree with me -- what is it you think we're afraid of?