This time Joel and Charlie tell stories about how people manage to not talk about what they might have in common.
Joel: When we left our heroes, they — we — had explored, if not come to complete agreement, on the two bills we set out to discuss, and while I'd be happy to go into more detail on that, I'm not sure that it would serve much of a didactic purpose for our readers. They've already gotten, I trust, that two folks with different orientations can discuss stuff that they don't agree on without throwing stones or epithets, although apparently not without a snarky comment from time to time.
I'll ask you to point our readers at your last posting, as that's where I want to start off, with the difficulties that you say that folks like me run into in trying to persuade folks like you, 'folks like you' being defined, for the purposes of this discussion, as people who aren't pro-gun, but are willing to listen, and consider other positions than the one you start off with.
I dunno, Charlie. And some of this stuff breaks my heart. I really don't worry a lot about most folks who always and only react to their stereotypes and/or neurotic fears about gun owners, and won't hear anything to the contrary; there's nothing I can do about them. (I'm not saying that all folks who disagree with me on these issues fall into that category, but I am saying that some do — and while I'm not going to go into detail, I'm including some people who I love dearly, including members of my family of origin. Almost got me killed once -- and no, I'm not exaggerating; anti-gun neurotics can be dangerous, and all the moreso if they're merely naive and hysterical, rather than malicious. But I digress.)
The rest of it frustrates the hell out of me. If I want to write or say something that goes kind of long — it takes a while to describe, say, the history of "shall issue" gun laws in the US, as part of the argument that they're not only mainstream, but working just fine — many folks don't read it. Hell, you'll worry about going long, and fret over whether or not your readers will be willing to follow a discussion that takes thousands, or tens of thousands, of words, and you've agreed to be open-minded in this discussion.
But going long has its problems.
So sometimes I go short, and pull out a picture like, say, this one, to illustrate a point. Or to help make one.
And therein lies a story. It may or may not have some relevance to this discussion. But it's going to be long. Bear with me; I'll try to tell it entertainingly.
Nationally, Joss Whedon's fans have put on a charity showing of Serenity <http://csts.mnfirefly.com/sponsors.htm> , in celebration of his birthday, every year for the past few years. It raises money for Equality Now <http://www.equalitynow.org/> , one of his favorite charities. You can look at their website and decide for yourself whether or not you're on board with their agenda. Me, I am in part, and not in other part. Hell, I don't even agree with me all the time . . .
So, there I was, siting at my desk getting some work done, and minding my own business, when Felicia calls me up and asks if I want to go see the charity showing with her; it'll be few bucks, but will go to a charity that I'm probably generally comfortable with, and I do love that movie, for a lot of reasons, and not just the hot babes with guns. (That I like hot babes with guns isn't a problem for Felicia; we've been married for close to thirty years, and I've long been out of the closet as a heterosexual.)
And then I took a look at the sponsors page. Regular tickets were something like ten bucks each, but there were several levels of sponsorship packages, culminating in the Big Damn Hero package. $250; buys you something like four tickets, a t-shirt, and a halfpage program book ad.
This, to me, sounded like too much fun to miss, and while $250 isn't always easy to come by, I figured I could probably get a few of my gun nut friends to kick in. Some of them are fans of the movie; others might like to see it. Yup, there would be some conservative folks who would have problems with Equality Now's pro-abortion-choice position, and what they should do, I said, is decide if, on balance, they're willing to support the event, or not. No problem, either way.
My friends quickly came up with $250, and kept giving. So I bought another Big Damn Hero package. And another. And another.
Lots of individuals and groups contributed to the event. Some bookstores and writers sent books; some stores contributed discount coupons and merchandise to be raffled off.
But there were a grand total of five of these $250 packages bought. Four of those five were bought by my "gun nut" friends and me. My suggestion to the local anti-gun group that they match our contributions to the event were ignored. Figures.
As you can probably imagine, the folks running the benefit — media science-fiction fans, whose main interest, or at least one of them, is Joss Whedon's Firefly — were rather pleased that I kept coming back to buy more of the two hundred and fifty dollar packages. My fairly modest requests — and you know me, Charlie; these were requests and not demands — that our four half-page ads be consolidated into two one-page ads, and that my bunch of folks get a reserved seating block so that we could all sit together were things they were happy to do.
Oleg Volk produced the two ads, on a very short deadline, and they were great. I already showed you the one that ended up gracing the back cover; the other one is here.
So, come the night of the show, my crowd gathers across the street, to have coffee and dinner before the show, and then walk over.
About two dozen of us, and I don't think many of them were unarmed, walk up to the Riverview theater. With one exception, nobody was carrying openly — the one exception was me; I had a knife on my belt, but my handgun was, as it usually is, carried discreetly.
Appearances can be deceiving. The tallest of us, Bruce Krafft, is about 6'6" tall, 300 pounds or so with a long, fiery red beard, and a shaved head. He looks like a Viking ax murderer, except for the pleasant smile (not having actually met any Viking ax murderers, I'm just guessing that most of them don't smile pleasantly), but is actually a very nice, very bright, very soft-spoken guy. Seismic Sam looks like the sort you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley — and, truth to tell, if you were to mean him or his family any harm, you wouldn't — but by profession he is a scientist, whose medical inventions have saved thousands of live. (That is not a figure of speech.) Greg's a pilot; Felicia is a librarian.
When we'd received our packages in the mail, we were told that we shouldn't be standing in line — we should just proceed directly into the theater, because we already bought our tickets, after all. As we did, the very nice woman running the benefit spotted me — she recognized me from my pictures; we'd never met — and shouting, "You must be Joel!" she ran over to give me a hug.
There was a moment of street theater. The very pleasant, shaved-headed black guy walking out of the previous movie, said, "oh, hugs. Cool." and gave me a quick hug, much to the amusement of all. (I don't know if he hung around to find out what that all was about.)
So we proceeded to our seats to wait for the show. The program books were handed out as people came in and bought tickets...
And then the unfortunate incident happened. I'm still irked about it.
Ten people, led by some middle-aged woman, took allowed exception to the self-defense poster that was our back cover ad — the link that I opened this story with — and they stormed out of the theater in a huff. Seems they objected to the gun she was wearing. In the ad.
I missed the unfortunate incident; I'd stepped outside the theater for a cigarette, and heard about it as I came back in. I don't know if that was just as well; I'd have been tempted to say something like, "You're worried about a picture? Lady, there's a couple dozen people in the theater actually carrying guns" — which would probably have been wrong, and I probably would have resisted the temptation.
I was, to say the least, a little irked. Just as I was about to dash back into the theater — the movie hadn't started — to take up a collection so that the charity wouldn't suffer a $100 loss, which hardly seemed fair, the woman running the event told me that there was nothing to worry about; they hadn't refunded the hysterics' money, and the seats had resold, anyway, so the charity was going to, rather than suffer a loss over that, actually make a little more profit.
So, still irked but feeling a little smug, I walked back in and sat back down.
Before the show, the various banner ads that various sponsors had purchased were flashed on the screen, and every time that one of the TwinCitiescarry.com ads showed up, it was met with applause from the entire theater.
And then we watched the movie, and enjoyed it thoroughly.
Honestly, I don't know how many peoples' views on issues around carrying guns in public were affected that night. Maybe none; maybe several dozen. But I'll score that night as a win. A bunch of gun folks, identified as such, contributed their money and their time and their presence to a charitable event, and had a lot of fun doing it. It's entirely possible that we did nothing, that night, to change anybody's prejudices about the sort of people who routinely carry handguns for personal defense.
Then again, maybe a few minds were changed, and a few hearts were softened.
I guess we'll have to see.
Me, I'm working on another t-shirt. It's got the twincitiescarry logo -- a snubby revolver over a carry permit on the front -- and the words
ASK ME ABOUT MY SECRET AGENDA
On the back it says:
TRUTH, JUSTICE, AND THE AMERICAN WAY. WHAT THE HELL IS YOURS?
Charlie: I think our topic is about how, if we share some values or positions, can we communicate with those who aren’t disposed to our view of the gun issue. The people in your story who walked out of the showing might represent a certain inflexible and intolerant subset of anti-gun people. They might also represent people who were outraged that you had tried to exploit their cause to advance yours, one they didn’t support. We’ll never know how you might’ve been able to reach an understanding since you didn’t talk to each other about it.
I don’t think that hijacking the Equality Now benefit was your intent, but can you see how people might think so? Unfortunately, when we send messages out into the public domain, we don’t get to decide how other people interpret them. Let me give you a different example.
Here’s an image from the same fellow who produced your ads. Now here’s my tale.
My father committed suicide with a firearm 24 years ago this month. He had begun treatment for a serious mental breakdown, but after some false starts, there was reason to hope he could be helped and recover. He was a tremendous human being and a pillar of the community, he had a loving family and the resources to get better. He also had a number of guns, all of which we thought had been located and secured out of the house. He had started medication to stabilize his condition, but the drugs took time to work.
One morning, he got up early and went into the dining room to do his crossword puzzle. Once my mother rose and went to take a shower, he went back to the bedroom, pulled his pistol hidden in their closet, went down into the family room and put a bullet in his brain. The account by my brother, a trained crime investigator, was at once dispassionate and heart-rending. He was staying at the house, heard my father come downstairs, heard the shot and ran in to discover our father’s body. Too late.
Now, ask yourself whether my family might feel that the poster — which was not aimed at persuading me, obviously — was just a bit lacking in sensitivity, not to mention lacking a refined understanding of the circumstances related to suicides. That message may pass muster with the faithful, but makes it a little harder to find common ground with me, don’t you think? And consider there are more Americans who’ve experienced a family member’s suicide than belong to the NRA.
I’m willing to assume the creator would be horrified to know how offensive his image could be and move on from there. But I’ll also insist on pointing to some facts that contradict the poster’s “they’ll just find another way to kill themselves” propaganda.
Most firearms deaths are suicides, and localities with supposedly overly restrictive gun laws have much lower suicide rates. Washington, D.C., has the lowest rate in America, one-fourth the rate of No. 1 Alaska. New York ranks 49th or 50th. California is 42nd, standing out among western states that account for 10 of the top 12 highest suicide rates.
I don’t even need to go into the statistics on accidental deaths and abusers murdering spouses to be able to claim that guns are a major public health issue. I’m not willing to dismiss this aspect of gun ownership from a discussion about the impact of regulations. The proper role of guns in self-defense against criminals is only one part of the issue. I want to look at this systemically, believing we can work out our differences over time, as long as we remain open to all the information and all possible solutions — maybe not getting to perfection or universal satisfaction, but better for all.
In our last post, I connected sex education with gun safety. Let’s extend the metaphor a bit. In both debates, everyone is concerned about prevention — preventing unwanted pregnancy and injury or death. Both debates have advocates for abstinence, and those who say abstinence isn’t realistic and doesn’t work. In my mind, if we insist on abstinence from guns instead of focusing on prevention, we’ll never reach agreement, much less a solution.
Back to your story. The people who walked out focused on the gun and missed a potentially provocative discussion about how a shared commitment to equality could be expressed differently. Over the past month you and I — and our respective readers — have done pretty well engaging in respectful discourse. I’ve personally done more listening than talking, in part because I want to better understand your point of view and because gun control is really not a burning issue for me; I’m more interested in how it stands for more fundamental differences about the limits of individual sovereignty in a free country.
I hope we have opened eyes on both sides, and maybe the minds will follow.