I must be a glutton for punishment. I started my career in the motorcycle industry working on motorcycle safety issues. Then I was a communications analyst for the intelligence community. Next up was as a U.S. diplomat representing America’s interests overseas. And now guns. It’s like I want people to hate me or something. Either it’s “the nicest people ride a Honda” or motorcycles are death machines. Intelligence gathering and data analysis are either critical for national security or unlawful spying on U.S. citizens (and proof that the government is out to get you). Diplomacy is an exercise in seeing people love everything American or protesting in the streets chanting “death to America.” And guns. Oh dear. So let’s just say, this thing of being on the side of the devil, I know it well. And it also means that not so humbly, I know a thing or two about how to handle yourself, your business, and your industry when half of the world hates you.
The way people express their disapproval and hatred of guns can be sneaky. Facebook, Google, Bing and Yahoo among others all have terms of service agreements that explicitly ban any form of firearm or associated product advertising. You can be logged into your Gmail account, merrily searching away in Google for the Glock 43 you want, and all that searching will not prompt your sidebar to be full of gun ads. So as a consumer you might not even notice it, might not even be aware of all the subtle prejudices and barriers to commerce out there, but those in the business do.
The way people express their disapproval and hatred of guns can blindside you. It’s hard to be in business if you only take cash. Too many people rely on credit cards to stretch their budget or to get points for extra savings to maximize the power of their dollars spent. You can’t operate a retail store without accepting credit card payments, nor can you be an online vendor. But guess what? Some of the most popular online credit card payment gateways have terms of service that don’t allow firearms sales. PayPal (with one of the cheapest transaction rates), Square Inc. (the mobile credit card processor), Intuit Go Payment among others … all refuse to serve firearms dealers. Of all the business challenges you think you might face, being refused service with no recourse because of the type of legal business you own is not one of them. Wait, aren’t there lawsuits of outrage against cake bakers and pizza joints who arbitrarily refuse to serve people?
The way people express their disapproval and hatred of guns can become public policy without Congress even noticing. The Justice Department’s Operation Choke Point that started in 2013 lumped gun sellers into the same bucket as payday loans, pornography, and escort services among others as being at risk for fraud. The goal of the program was to shut down fraudulent businesses by denying them access to banking services. But imagine the surprise of gun dealers across the country who had their accounts shut down because they ran a legitimate, legal business, selling a known product for an advertised price, put their daily take into the bank, and suddenly were deemed money launderers. I can see how a payday loan company could easily defraud me with hidden fees, but how is a gun store defrauding me when I purchase a firearm I want, at an advertised price that I agree to? Further, the ATF already has measures in place that get at things like money laundering, arms trafficking, and straw purchases, thank you very much.
And most obviously, the way people express their disapproval and hatred of guns is to be very vocal about it and try to shout louder via the media who invariably miss all the nuance and take up the side of “I never met a law I didn’t like” champions.
As you can see, when half of the world hates you, the avenues are many to trip you up. But when it comes to responding? Shouting louder, self-righteousness, and digging in your heels on what seems common sense to you doesn’t cut it. A democratic republic that protects both majority and minority alliances de facto means you can’t win via a scorched earth policy where your opponents go away forever.
The first thing to consider is that the media is not set up for nuance; it’s set up to push someone’s viewpoint (show me a writer that doesn’t have one, myself included), to break the issue down into two sides (left and right), and then to tell the reader what to think about it. Think of a polarizing issue. The media will tell you a person is either pro-life or pro-choice because those are the only options, but really query someone and you might find they are sometimes one and sometimes the other. Or take immigration; we’re supposed to either be moral and allow everyone in no matter what, or we’re supposed to defend the Constitution and exclude unlawful entrants and refugees regardless of why they want in; pick one, but not both.
Once you’ve become embroiled in a long-term shouting match with your opponent over “dire” public policy consequences, the way you get people on your side is to frame the issue around goals, beliefs and values they will support. In it’s most basic format that’s just the advertising we’re all used to, but in Washington, it’s known as issue framing where you talk about the policy outcome you want and how it meets the listeners values in order to garner support for it. The problem with issues framed as polar opposites is that the two sides are set up to be about two different things, so that you cannot support one without totally running over the other.
So here I sit, arguing that gun ownership and laws are about individual rights, defending the original intent of the Constitution, about my own personal protection and that of my family and property, about defending the American way of life to hunt and fish and make my own decisions about how I live my life. All very granular, individual things. And those shouting at me from across the fence? They are exercised about public health and safety. They are worried that the level of violence in the U.S. is impacting our overall public health, overrunning trauma centers, making cities inhabitable for families, tragically cutting short young lives. That there’s no way to keep our schools and public places free of devastating criminal attacks by madmen. That the majority of violence and crime they see around them would not happen if it weren’t for firearms. So either it’s about individual rights or public health. What sort of trade off is that? Either I get to live my life with rights given to me at our founding OR I get to care about public health and safety. But why not both?
So back to nuance. There are plenty of gun owners who would be completely comfortable with things like universal background check laws or other purchase restrictions. It’s ludicrous to think that gun owners don’t understand that without public health concerns, it’d be the year 1854 in London again and we’d all be dying of cholera because the water system was contaminated by sewage dumped directly into the Thames. We get it. But you know what those who hate us don’t get? That target shooting is fun and thus firearms aren’t just for protection, they are also an accessible, affordable and interesting hobby. That shooting is a sport for families. That there’s “nothing more relaxing than range day”.
Or there’s hunting. Oh so violent. Or redneck. Or something. And yet, when was the last time you looked at how animals were treated in our industrialized food production processes? Now there is something gross. And cruel. And unacceptable. It happens right here in your backyard too. Just ask Leprino Foods about what happened at Winchester Dairy in Roswell, New Mexico. Given that, why is hunting and eating what you kill the cruel thing?
Geography matters too. Do the same gun laws make sense for a lightly populated state where most live in rural areas far from their neighbors versus a densely packed urban neighborhood where people literally live on top of each other? Likely not.
In truth, people have the right to hate guns. It’s hard to blame them sometimes when all they know is the nightly crime report and some NRA-guy pontificating about the Constitution. It’s all well and good to say that gun owners shouldn’t have to defend ownership, but it’s not realistic when you are up against a public health and safety argument. Instead of arguing about constitutional-interpretation and organized militias, we need to be talking about target shooting as a hobby and why it’s fun and for the whole family; about hunting as a viable way to rid oneself of partaking in the animal cruelty that dogs industrialized food production; that we too care about public health and safety and want to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill. And then we need to proffer solutions to do just that. Because there is nothing that calms a shouting enemy more quickly than solving their problem for them.