Shape Up, TRT

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

The Colorado Freedom

Shape Up, TRT

by Ari Armstrong, May 16, 2001

I always thought the "West Steps of the Capitol" were, well, the west steps. The police interpreted the Million Moms' permit for the steps rather broadly to include the entire west lawn, all the way down to the sidewalk by the street.

Ridiculously, the police taped off the entire lawn with the message, "Police line -- do not cross." Two lines of tape separated the civil arms ralliers from the Million Moms. The police called the area between the two taped lines the "neutral area," where no one was allowed except the police. I jokingly referred to it as the "no-fly zone."

Another popular joke was that the police were roping off a crime scene, where the Million Moms were conspiring to violate civil rights.

It looked pretty silly. However, I suppose it would have had the appearance of greater utility had the Million Mom March managed to bring out anywhere near the numbers it managed last year. The MMM drew about 150-200 ralliers, whereas the civil arms groups below attracted 140.

In addition, Alan Albertus tells me that around 120 people attended the Second Amendment Sisters event in Loveland. He said the event was effective at getting out the message to others in the area, though it didn't attract much press attention. Also, another group in Colorado Springs rallied for the right of self-defense. Together, the pro-arms side turned out a lot bigger crowd than the victim disarmament side.

Marilee Louis, co-president of the Denver chapter of the Million Mom March, told the Denver Post May 14, "We're a little disappointed by the turnout... I think a lot of the women are a little nervous about those guys [in the TRT]." However, the MMM can't blame the TRT for its poor turnout. The MMM has been losing support all year and its rallies around the country attracted few participants, whether or not a protest group was present.

Ironically, the Million Moms urged their members to find one of the dozens of armed police officers at the scene if they encountered violence. This was unnecessary advice, as only members of the Million Moms have initiated physical violence at previous events. The TRT has been consistently peaceful. In addition, the Million Moms must know their victim disarmament laws will be enforced by violent, armed-to-the-hilt SWAT raids busting down the doors of peaceable citizens.

In general, the civil arms rally at the state capitol was a success. I earned at least one television interview and a quote in the Denver Post. Libertarians held signs supporting the right of self-defense, waved at passersby, and handed out literature. I handed out flyers to the Million Moms questioning their beliefs. Mothers who care about defending their families milled about peacefully. The mere fact that nearly as many civil arms advocates as Million Moms showed up made an impressive point.

Unfortunately, the civil arms rally was not the success it could have been because the TRT leaders could not (or would not) reign in the rude, inappropriate behaviors of some of the group's members. While no member of the TRT has ever attempted to initiate violence, certainly some are guilty of uncivil behavior. Just because an action is a political right doesn't mean it's morally right.

A few individuals were responsible for most of the transgressions. I saw people wearing TRT shirts shout at, heckle, and verbally abuse random passersby who had nothing to do with the MMM. News Flash: such tactics are not very effective in terms of winning others over to our point of view. In one case, some TRT members shouted at a woman who works for the state to coordinate rallies.

In another case, someone verbally blasted a news reporter. And then some TRT members wonder why they have a hard time earning fair press coverage! Fortunately, Bob Glass was able to defend the reporter at the time.

One guy wore a camouflage combat helmet. Unfortunately, the circus doesn't come to town until later in the summer.

On many occasions TRT members accused the Million Moms of being fascists. True, the policies advocated by the Million Moms fit the formal definition of fascism: state control over nominally private property (in this case firearms). However, neither the Million Moms, the general public, nor the media "get it." So, instead of conveying the message, "The Million Moms advocate policies which give the state too much power," some in the TRT gave off the message, "Our mommies never taught us how to behave in public."

Indeed, such behavior merely serves to reinforce the stereotypes advanced by the Million Moms that gun owners are right-wing crazies. Several of the Million Moms seemed to think (or at least claim) that the TRT was somehow sympathizing with Hitler. Obviously that's not true -- it's the exact opposite of the truth -- but it's the responsibility of civil arms advocates to state their message in a clear, unambiguous way.

For instance, on May 16 Roger Lynn of Highlands Ranch wrote in a letter to the Rocky Mountain News about the

men in black T-shirts who were screaming out insults at the Million Mom March on Mothers' Day, who sang out "Sieg Heil!" ...[and] who used bullhorns to shout in people's ears as they came and left the rally...

That's a reasonably accurate description of the behavior of SOME of the civil arms ralliers. Meanwhile, other members of the TRT, as well as members of the Libertarian Party and Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, behaved civilly and dressed and acted with a cheery demeanor. Unfortunately, the minority of rowdies tended to steal most of the attention.

Does the TRT seriously believe actions such as described in the letter will help persuade people to support the civil right of self-defense? Note how easily the "sieg heil" quote was turned around on the TRT.

I tried to strike up a reasoned discussion with several of the Million Moms. In a few cases, I succeeded. However, they were so disgusted by the actions of some TRT members that I found it difficult even to hand out flyers outlining my case.

Imagine if the situation were reversed. If the Million Moms showed up to protest a civil arms rally, how would we react if they were rude and verbally mean? Personally, I would only grow more resolved to advance my ideas and policies. I doubt the Million Moms respond much differently.

Most of my criticisms are directed at a few individuals. However, other criticisms are directed at the TRT as a whole.

As I've argued before, "in your face," confrontational protests can be very effective when used against political insiders. For instance, the Owens protests have been very successful, as have been the protests of Project Exile. The express purpose of such protests is to embarrass politicians and other "insiders" by loudly pointing out their lies and hypocrisies. I'll call this sort of rally the "Insider Confrontation" rally.

On Mothers' Day, we did not need an "Insider Confrontation" rally; instead, we needed a "Public Persuasion" rally. The purpose of such a rally is to express public support for one's views, earn positive media coverage, educate the general public, educate the opposition, and provide a sense of camaraderie and purpose for one's group.

A "Public Persuasion" rally is most effective if people dress nicely, act respectfully, and focus on substantive issues.

It's not like it's difficult to make the Million Moms look foolish. Virtually every claim made by the Million Moms is either a flat-out lie or a deceptive half-truth. The Million Moms actively support policies proven to increase violent crime, especially against women. Meanwhile, the side advocating the rights of gun owners is the side with well-documented support and with moral superiority because it advocates civil rights, self-defense, safe communities, and a properly limited government.

We WANT the public debate to focus on substantive issues. The Million Moms can only succeed if they manage to avoid the facts and focus on pure emotion. Unfortunately, some TRT members helped the Million Moms move the debate away from the substantive issues.

When the TRT allows rude behavior and nasty language, it perpetuates the following negative consequences:

  • The media lose sight of the substantive message. When reporters encounter screaming and bad language, they tend to either focus on the negatives or spend their time with the Million Moms. And don't tell me reporting will always be biased against us. I've seen fair media coverage for most of the events I've participated in.

  • Potential allies are turned off. The TRT can blame the Second Amendment Sisters for holding a separate rally all it wants. The fact is many parents simply won't take their children to an event where people are screaming bad language. At the Mothers' Day rally, I could see the look of cringing on the faces of good people who were made uncomfortable by some TRT behaviors. The leaders of the TRT once claimed they wanted the support of normal people: "bakers and candle-stick makers." Does that remain the case?

  • The passion of the anti-gun activists is heightened. When they're able to point to a "bad guy," they have something to rally against.

  • Negative stereotypes of gun owners are reinforced. Major impediments to rational thinking are bias, bigotry, and stereotyping. Clearly the Million Moms perpetuate stereotypes about gun owners. For instance, Roger Lynn claims the Million Moms "have decided that the love of their children is more important than your love of your guns." Lynn's comment is flagrantly bigoted as it suggests gun owners do not love children. In fact, gun owners keep their children safe by responsibly practicing self-defense. (Gun owners also help keep the children of the Million Moms safe, as criminals don't usually know which house contains armed parents.) Yes, the Million Moms are morally and factually wrong when they express bigoted views of gun owners. However, in order to win the cultural debate, gun owners must strive to break down those stereotypes.

I work too hard to let some TRT members rob me of opportunities to educate the public and the press about the validity of my views. Fortunately, there are many ways the TRT can clean up its image and become more productive. Here are some ideas.

  • Write a code of conduct. Suggest and encourage positive behavior. No bad language. No yelling with bullhorns at point-blank range. No harassing passersby.

  • Get speakers for "Public Persuasion" Rallies. Give TRT members something positive to do. Give the press something interesting to report. It's easy to wheel out a portable microphone system and invite people to prepare comments.

  • Develop positive chants and songs. Instead of yelling, "Bullshit!", yell, "Liars!" The Million Moms lie all the time, so I see nothing wrong with pointing that out. Chant positive messages like, "More Guns, Less Crime!" or "Guns Save Lives!" or "Our Lives Count Too!" Sing patriotic songs. It's easier to get under the Million Moms' skin by politely crying out the truth, than by rudely screaming profanities.

  • Instead of yelling at the opposition, try handing out informative flyers or politely outlining some basic points. Things like, "Why do you support the Brady Bill, given that it increases rapes?" Here's an obvious point: it's difficult for a Million Mom to maintain bigoted opinions about gun owners who are smiling and advocating public safety.

  • Work harder at helping other TRT members interact productively with the press and the public. Like anything, public persuasion is a skill that must be learned and developed.

I'm a big believer in the value of public rallies. In that respect, I think the TRT is on the right track. However, the TRT is defeating itself by failing to deal with inappropriate behaviors at Public Persuasion rallies. That's got to change. To date, I have encouraged people to participate with the TRT, hoping always that the group would continually improve. For that to continue, the group's leaders have got to take steps to make the TRT more productive.

The principles of freedom and individual civil liberties are too important to let internal problems persist.

The Colorado Freedom