In June of 2008, I had what I consider to be an epiphany regarding the Second Amendment to our Constitution. It was at that point that I understood, in full, what the Founding Fathers meant when they included it into the Bill of Rights. From then on, my views regarding firearms changed pretty drastically, and now I am a proud firearms enthusiast. But if you'd told me anytime before then that this would happen, I'd have thought you were smoking something illegal.
See, I'm a social liberal born and raised in San Francisco, California. I have pretty much all the open-mindedness that you'd expect from just about any other San Franciscan. That makes me a firearms enthusiast somewhat unlike many others in the pro-Second Amendment community. Being very much a liberal, my political beliefs are very different in many respects from many other firearms enthusiasts. I'm not a Christian and have no desire to ever be again. Gay marriage, no problem. Muslim? Fine by me, if that's your thing. Confederate worshipper? OK, personally I think you're nuts, but it's your right, so go for it.
None of that is relevant to the rights guaranteed to us under the Second Amendment!
We have the great fortune to live in what is still a free country today. That means we have the right not to agree with each other. This is America, and we get to do that here. However, one area in which we all really should be in agreement is that the Second Amendment is why we have the right to those other differences of position. It's what actually gives teeth to the rest of the Constitution. Absent of the right to keep and bear arms, the Constitution would be just another sheet of paper.
Fortunately, that isn't the case. The Founding Fathers made sure it wouldn't be.
However, we have another problem. This is a problem of numbers. I think--I hope--we all agree that many officials in high office would love to eviscerate those rights. Being from California, I know a lot of people who have voted for these folks again and again, without much of a thought either for or against the Second Amendment. Witness Dianne Feinstein's far-too-long political career. Also note that while she wants to deny those rights to us, she is herself on record as having gotten a concealed weapons permit in San Francisco! Yes, Dianne Feinstein--Mrs. Epitome-Of-Anti-Gunner--has herself legally carried a concealed gun and presumably still does today (she claims otherwise now, but who outside of her circle really knows?). We know that New York Senator Chuck Schumer does, too. Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, who has repeatedly voted against pro-2A legislation, has not been at all bashful about his own penchant for carrying a gun. Quite a few anti-gunner politicians own and/or carry guns, or like Michael Bloomberg, Eric "Fast 'N' Furious" Holder, and the Clintons, they have a cadre of armed bodyguards.
So how is it that such hypocrites keep getting re-elected to high office? How do they get all these people to mark their ballots for them? And more, how do these hypocrites convince these voters that guns are just soooo evil?
Simple: they point at us as a group and call us "right-wing extremists."
Sadly, in many cases, it seems that they have some ammunition, and from a non-social-conservative, non-Republican point of view, it's pretty good ammunition. My Dad and I used to talk about this on a regular basis. The ammunition is well known: Christian fundamentalist, intolerant, bigoted, Confederacy-worshipping, redneck wing-nuts. And there's some truth to it.
Over the last several years, I've been to quite a few gun shows. Now, I'm no more a fan of President Obama than I suspect many other firearms enthusiasts are, for quite a few reasons. However, it's probably not a good thing that I'm seeing targets with his head as the bullseye. Nor is it good for us as a pro-freedom movement when I'm manning a pro-gun advocacy booth and hear people referring to President Obama as "Sambo" and "Head Nigger In Charge."
A poignant example of this harmful attitude was provided to us by former US Rep. Virgil Goode of Virginia, upon the election of Rep. Keith Ellison. Rep. Ellison, a native of Detroit, MI who converted to Islam as an adult, chose to use the Koran--specifically, President Thomas Jefferson's Koran--at his swearing-in ceremony. Rep. Goode, a staunch pro-Second Amendment activist, had this to say about that event:
"When I raise my hand to take the oath on Swearing In Day, I will have the Bible in my other hand. I do not subscribe to using the Koran in any way. The Muslim Representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don't wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran."
Oh. My. Goodness.
This kind of thing turns off a major constituency that we need in order to get more voters on board with the Second Amendment. That constituency is other liberals. We need other liberals on our side. Without them, I fear that ultimately we will lose. Right now the typical liberal is not on our side, and when I say "our", I don't mean "conservatives" or "Christians" or "White Southerners" or anything else other than those who are pro-Second Amendment.
I'm referring to pro-2A liberals like my Dad, a black man. Before he died in October 2015, he was firmly on the side of the Second Amendment. For two decades, he tried to get me to understand the need for the right to carry. He urged me for a long time to get "a permit to carry," as he called it. And he encouraged others to do so.
He also despised the NRA or anything that smacks of it.
Dichotomy? Not from his vantage point. During his life, he had to use his gun on several occasions to protect himself from racists--typically pro-Confederacy types--who wanted to kill him for merely existing. He'd been witness to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s head as the bullseye on targets. And then, years later, I, his son, saw the same thing happening again with President Obama's likeness. I heard, and still hear, him being called terrible, racist names that I never heard Bill Clinton get called. In both cases, the people doing this are, yep, you guessed it, usually sporting NRA stickers and patches on their cars, pickup trucks and/or jackets.
My Mom, a white woman and fellow California liberal, isn't too hot on the Democrats anymore, either, even though she does vote for them. She sees them basically as the "lesser of the two evils" between them and the Republicans. I took Mom to the range a couple of times, and she found that she enjoyed it! But she, too, sees us as "wingnuts" and wouldn't want to be anywhere near an NRA function. I did take her, and my stepfather, to a gun show once. He ended up feeling threatened and thus ended up acting rather rudely to several people there, people whom I know, because of the "wingnut" assumption. There was no call for that rudeness, as he was in no danger whatsoever. But he still felt threatened enough to be rude. Ironically, he owns a semiautomatic pistol and a 12-gauge shotgun!
That is what's got to change.
We--myself, my parents, and many others like us--are the liberals that our movement needs. We need to stop driving us away. So how do we do this? How do we get other liberals, like my parents, more proactively on our side?
My Mom is a relationship counselor. She has helped a whole lot of couples who were on the brink of divorce achieve reconciliation and end up happily together once again. She's a very wise woman and knows a whole lot about communication. She gave me some advice years ago, which was the following:
"If you want to move someone over to your way of thinking, you can be one step away from them, and you can get 'em to come along with you. But if you're two steps away, you will generally lose them."
She also stressed the importance of "speaking their language." Right now, we generally don't speak the language of liberals very well. As a movement, we need to start doing that better.
Here's what I propose.
He was walking from his hotel room to his car one day, minding his own business. Three racists with knives came up to him, saying "we're gonna cut ourselves up a nigger, boys!" Yeah...right up until my Dad produced the .38 Special snubbie that he was legally carrying concealed, and said, "I don't think so, fellas." They quickly changed their minds and left. Funny how that works, isn't it?
Now consider that I was 11 years old and nearly lost my father that day. I then calmly and slowly, contemplatively, ask the anti-gunner this question: "if my Dad had not had his gun that day, do you believe he would've survived the encounter, and if your answer is yes, then in what condition do you believe those racists with their knives would've been likely to leave him?" And then just wait for the anti-gunner to answer.
Liberals are likely to be present when such a conversation goes down. They always have when I've been faced with it. Often, some of them eventually come up to me and ask me questions. They ask me if I own a gun. I tell 'em all excitedly, "Oh, sure! I'm at the range all the time! It's so much fun! It's just like modern-day William Tell, you know, hit the bullseye, but way safer than what he had to do!" Since I know their concerns about firearms and safety ("guns bad! guns bad!"), I know which "button-push" issues I need to smooth over.
In all of this, I don't get upset or even irritated with them. I don't act rudely and cut them off; I let them finish their sentences, though I demand (and get) the same respect in return. And I certainly don't criticize them for their liberal beliefs. I'm too busy having fun educating them! And since I'm speaking their language, they'll listen to me. This is key. We've got to start speaking their language, and I mean more than just "women can fend off their rapists if they have a gun!" That's important, but it's not enough. Every black person in this country, for historical reasons, really should be pro-gun like my Dad was. But as we know, far too many are not, for reasons I've already outlined. We've got to attract these folks to our movement. We've got to seek them out and speak their language.
Remember, you are an ambassador, and other political differences are irrelevant when we're talking about the Second Amendment. Use diplomacy. Stay on the specific topic of the 2A, no matter how tempted you might be to start talking about abortion, "God", the national debt, or whatever else. Resist that temptation, and stay calm. Just keep reminding yourself of that as you're talking with these folks. Make it a mantra if you have to. We call this "sales and marketing", and yes, it matters. Make use of it!
If we can do more of this, then perhaps the liberals we talk to might look at the hypocrisy of the anti-gunner diatribe and re-think their previous positions. They probably will see us as a whole as less "wing-nut". And perhaps some of them, like me, might even re-consider voting for those who don't respect this fundamental Constitutional right.
I am a liberal. And as you now know, I have a gun, and I'm not about to give it up! There are a lot of others like me. We need them...on our side.