In the wake of the horrific shooting in Las Vegas, “bump stocks” became the cause célèbre of the gun control crowd. A bump stock, to be honest, is a rather silly device that attaches to the back of a rifle which allows you to rapidly increase the rate of fire of the gun, letting it mimic the effect of a fully-automatic rifle. Bump stocks specifically designed to get around the restrictions on civilian ownership of fully-automatic firearm that were imposed by the passage the National Firearms Act and the Hughes Amendment, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives decided (at President Trump’s urging) that they made a mistake back in 2010, and such things shouldn’t be in civilian hands.
The fact that you can replicate automatic fire with training and practice, (or even with something as prosaic as a belt loop) seems to be lost on the BATFE, but that’s a topic for another time.
This ban on bump stocks didn’t happen in a vacuum, it happened because no one outside of a small group of gun owners thought bump stocks were a good idea in the first place. We gun owners seem utterly incapable of explaining how the right to keep and bear arms affects everyone, not just ourselves.
Let’s begin with the obvious: Safe, responsible concealed carry is a herd immunity against crime. Dr. John Lott made this abundantly clear in his seminal work, “More Guns, Less Crime,” and it’s time for gun owners to take up the charge and come out of the shadows.
It’s no secret that the forces of gun control are using the same tactics that made smoking unpopular in order to make guns unpopular, but the problem with that argument is that the societal benefits of smoking are pretty much non-existent, but the societal benefits of concealed carry is less crime and safer neighborhoods. That should (should) be an easy argument to make, but for some reason, we chose to yell about “My rights!” and ignore the positive effect of those rights on the people around us. In response, some of the leading lights in gun rights have suggested that we should follow the same course that the gay rights movement, and I think there is merit in their argument because, in just a few short years, homosexuality became accepted in American culture. How did this happen, and what can we learn from it?*
First off, it wasn’t outlandish marches in the Castro District that made homosexuality accepted in American culture, it was normal (gay) people acting normal in normal ways. An anecdote: Back when I was a photographer, I worked with an art director named Jim who was a former NYC firefighter. He was unpretentious, laid back and easy to work with. He liked golf, had a great creative eye, was into indie music, and we got along famously.
And then we threw a Christmas party at the studio, and Jim brought his boyfriend.
Jim did more to change my mind about homosexuality’s place in our society than 10,000 people marching through the Castro District shouting “We’re here, we’re queer, and we’re not going away!” ever could. What changed my mind wasn’t a freak show of loud and proud activists, what changed my mind was someone who looked like me and acted like me and was like me in every way, except with who he chose to snuggle up with at night.
Secondly, the gay rights movement made an appeal to the common feeling of love that pretty much everyone on the planet has. The movement framed itself as a movement based on the universal emotion of romantic love and voilá, gays were accepted in society. This should be an easy argument for gun owners to make, because while we may yell about “Our rights to keep and bear arms!” at a political demonstration, the fact is, there is a reason why that right is important that goes beyond the right itself. That right to armed self-defense is important is because there are something things in this world that are worth defending to the utmost extreme. Make your cause about the goal, not the means, and people will join you in your quest for that goal. The gay rights / civil rights movement worked because it was presented as being about the universal feeling of love for another person. It wasn’t necessarily love for your fellow man (literally!) it was about the idea that you should love who you should love.
Here’s the brutal truth: Nobody cares about your rights. They care about their rights, and pretty much every gun group out there has done a spectacularly poor job of explaining how expanding gun rights helps society as a whole.
Before the ACLU morphed itself into a lobby group for progressive causes, it successfully tied protecting the free speech of Nazis into protecting everyone’s right to speak their mind. The ACLU took an unpopular idea (absolute free speech) and made it popular by showing how free speech was for everyone. Gun owners need to follow that model and start thinking of gun rights in terms of other people, not just ourselves.
We are compromising about how much we are willing to give up. It’s time to make the other side compromise their values instead. It’s time to stop playing defense, and time to expand our gun rights by bringing in other people into our cause. We are not going to win the war on guns by circling the wagons and playing defense. We are going to win the war by opening up a second front and force the other side to start playing defense. We are compromising about how much we are willing to give up. It’s time to make the other side compromise their values instead.
* Please leave the debate about whether or not that’s a good thing for another time and another place. We’re talking about gun rights here, and those rights belong to everyone, no matter who they consider to be attractive.