How Gun Owners Can Win

The Colorado Freedom Report:  A libertarian journal of politics and culture.

The Colorado Freedom

How Gun Owners Can Win

by Ari Armstrong, March 8, 2000

Civil gun rights advocates are doing remarkably well in Colorado. Most of the more onerous gun restriction laws have been killed in the legislature, the Tyranny Response Team earned national media with its March 6 protest of the disarmament group Sane Alternatives to the Firearms Epidemic (the name of which likens gun ownership to a disease), and Governor "Gun Control" Bill Owens is whining like a whelp to his leftist friends because of all the criticism he's taken over his disarmament proposals.

No one in Colorado is talking (publicly) about universal background checks or registration schemes, as Bill Clinton is doing on the national level. Instead, disarmament activists are pushing incremental changes. Thus, Colorado gun owners have at least stopped the outpouring of anti-freedom proposals to a slow leak.

But the dam of Liberty remains cracked, and unless it is repaired it will eventually unleash the fury of tyranny. A November petition battle looms large with an as-of-yet unknown collection of disarmament proposals that failed to pass the legislature. This fight is sure to draw big-name political players from around the nation and elicit hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of disarmament propaganda. Civil gun rights activists are doing well, but we can, we must, do better.

Civil gun rights advocacy consists of three main goals: pressuring current politicians to back off disarmament proposals and even support pro-freedom legislation, working to elect new pro-freedom legislators, and gaining the sympathy of the broader public.

Of course, these are not disparate aims. As we gain public support, it's easier to pressure politicians and replace the worst of the current lawmakers with better ones. One of the ways to gain public support is to intelligently pressure politicians. Thus, many activities serve several purposes. For instance, the TRT rally in Fort Morgan in protest of Owens caused the governor to sweat and it also popularized the civil arms message.

To date, what has worked has been issue-oriented political and social pressure, mostly in the form of rallies. What has NOT worked is personal intimidation. For instance, the rallies counter the Million Mom disarmers had a good effect in publicizing our cause and demonstrating to politicians our political muscle. However, the practice by some of calling and writing Million Mom organizers with intimidating messages has back-fired, giving rise to national, negative press. Such acts give unsympathetic main-stream reporters an excuse to focus on tactics rather than message and to further demonize gun owners.

Of course, I'm all for individuals making good-will gestures to members of the other side. For instance, I send an open letter to a couple members of the Million Moms politely describing my position. Every broad movement has its fringe elements, but if some individuals send threatening messages, civil arms leaders can and should disavow and discourage such behavior.

Simple introspection will demonstrate that personal intimidation doesn't work. If I received numerous messages threatening either violence or annoyance, that would only heighten my resolve to fight for my cause. Disarmament activists are no different, and several have said so publicly. Indeed, some Million Moms are using instances of personal intimidation to rally their troops. I had the occasion to meet Tom Mauser, and he showed me a piece of hate-mail sent to him that made him glow with righteous indignation.

Of course, Kathleen Hopkins of the Million Moms and others have spread lies about the pro-arms rallies, making such false accusations as that the TRT blocked the entry to a meeting hall. If we take the moral high-road, we can turn such lies to embarrass the other side. But ONLY if we take the moral high-road. If we tolerate some instances of personal intimidation, the press, and by extension the public, will find any instance of alleged intimidation plausible.

Forceful questioning at public meetings and spirited advocacy are perfectly acceptable. For instance, Bob Glass and Mark Call did a brilliant job at the "Project Exile" meeting pushing Wayne LaPierre into a corner. Call made USA Today by asking LaPierre if the number for turning in one's neighbors for technical gun violations is 1-800-GESTAPO. That kind of thing plays well in the press, and, while opponents can complain, it's fully respected by the culture as legitimate political battle.

Glass is particularly effective because he can be a real pain for the opposition, and he can also reach out in respectful cooperation. For instance, after the March 6 demonstration Glass publicly thanked the Denver police for their cooperation and civility. Earlier that day, he successfully challenged the SAFE leadership to a public debate. Such a debate will do wonders in terms of getting the message out to the broader public. (If the other side backs out, our side still wins.)

I have one minor disagreement with Glass, however. He has said that we might as well go for the gusto in our public demonstrations, since the press is going to report us in a negative light, anyway. My disagreement is two-fold: first, spirited public protests are seen as honorable or at least acceptable by most members of the public, so there's nothing to be worried about so far as putting on an impressive, impassioned show. Second, the mains-stream press has been reasonably fair in covering the TRT events (with only one obvious exception). If we play by the rules, we can cry foul if the press ever treats us poorly. No newspaper wants to receive 500 letters in a week criticizing its bias. Again, if we take the moral high-road, the press is pretty much bound to cover us with at least a measure of fairness.

In short, civil gun advocates should encourage lively rallies with chants, songs, public readings, and personal testimonies. They should protest anti-freedom politicians and support pro-freedom ones. They should use social pressure in an effort to make opponents rethink their position, but never personal intimidation. That is, we can ask pointed questions at public meetings, carry signs, and publicly blast calls for disarmament. This is all within the bounds of acceptable public debate. We should remember that the press likes to cover controversial events and that journalists are people, too, who are responsive to good-will gestures and benevolence. If we act always with civility, many members of the public will come to respect our resolve and perhaps even think seriously about our ideas. The moral high-ground belongs to us. There's room on that ground for righteous anger, but not for petty meanness.

We are the heirs of Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. The facts are on our side, and justice is our destiny. Finally, we've found the courage of our convictions. Now in righteousness let us make haste!

The Colorado Freedom