Replies to Pam White's Gun-Class Article
by Ari Armstrong, June 4, 2003
Pamela White courageously took a firearms training class at my suggestion, even though she didn't think owning a gun (or using one in self-defense) was a good idea. She wrote an excellent article in the Boulder Weekly about the class (search the archives for May 29).
I disagree with two points she made in the article, but that doesn't change the fact that she worked hard to write a sincere, thoughtful article about her experience. Indeed, few would be willing to go so far out of their way to challenge their own long-held beliefs.
What are the points of disagreement? As others indicate below, historically non-violence is not synonymous with pacifism. Many who advocated non-violence as a political strategy also advocated self-defense in emergency situations.
Also, White writes, "While firearms may be tools, they are tools designed to take life." That just isn't so. A firearm is a tool designed for many purposes, including target practice, hunting, competition shooting, and self-defense. How can a type of tool be said to be "designed to take life" when it is hardly ever used for that purpose? Kleck (Targeting Guns) writes, "In 1992, about 3.8 billion shots were fired... almost all of them in connection with some variety of shooting linked with recreation" (86). Obviously guns were not "designed" for use in crime any more than cars or knives were, but even so "[p]robably fewer than 2% of handguns and well under 1% of all guns will ever be involved in even a single violent crime" (ibid., 94). At the same time, "The best survey on defensive gun use frequency indicates 2.55 million defensive gun uses a year in the United States" (Kleck, Armed, 271), among the roughly half of all Americans who own guns (Kates, Armed, 18). Among defensive gun uses, "Only 24 percent of the gun defenders reported firing the gun, and only 8 percent reported wounding an adversary" (Kleck, Armed, 313). In addition, probably less than 15% of the time does a gunshot wound turn out to be fatal (ibid., 299). Thus, firearms are not "designed to take a life," though one of their designations is self-defense. If the act of self-defense happens to result in the death of the criminal, that is an unfortunate consequence of the perpetrator's initiation of violence.
Below are a number of responses to White's article, sometimes followed by my reply.
I want to applaud you for your success in the Pamela White story. That was incredible. Pamela sounds like a remarkable woman. How many of us would so easily give up an entire weekend to challenge our views?
We're planning on sending her story out on our A&S Review list. And I'm going to hold on to it in my files because through her story Pamela taught me some things about how to communicate our ideas in an even more persuasive fashion.
Congratulations on a job well done,
She wrote a great article. You should be proud to have played a part in it.
Brian Schwartz, May 30
P.s. OK, OK, my ONE quibble: "While firearms may be tools, they are tools designed to take life." I hear this so often, but I do not think this is true. I'm not sure exactly what it means. Guns are tools designed to fire a projectile when the trigger is pulled.
State Senator Ron Teck
Dean Blanck sent me a link to Pamela's article. Congrats on having the confidence that her visit would accomplish what it did, although I'm not surprised. Your Dad and all the instructors over here do such a great job. I keep trying to convince Eastern Slopers to come over, maybe her article will help. It would be great if a similar effort could be mounted in the Denver area; I understand the cost of a similar course over there is in the $200.00 range.
[State Senator] Ron Teck, May 30
God Bless you Ari.
Now if she would just stop misrepresenting Gandhi's view of violence.
Mahatma Gandhi: "Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look upon the act of depriving a whole nation of arms, as the blackest." ("Gandhi, an Autobiography," M.K. Gandhi, 446)
"My non-violence does not admit of running away from danger and leaving dear ones unprotected. Between violence and cowardly flight, I can only prefer violence to cowardice. I can no more preach non-violence to a coward than I can tempt a blind man to enjoy healthy scenes." (Young India, 28.5.1924)
Pete Tucker, May 30
I posted links to your story and the articles Ms. White wrote on my blog. The response was very strong, other websites linked to my postings and the comments were very favorable. Thank you for your efforts and congratulations on some thought provoking writing.
Walter Schlomer, May 31
[Note: The following comments were forwarded to me from various web pages, and I do not have the links. The commentators are not identified here (and often were not identified on the web pages).]
(Overly) Critical Comments"I've now read the woman's article twice. I think there might be hope for her. It's obvious she struggled intensely to hang onto her tired old anti-Second Amendment bigotry both in person and in her reporting. I've seen several leftists struggle with reality, and it's not a pretty sight. I hope her dose of reality and conservative kindness overpower her bigotry and fears. If they do, she'll find herself having to question assumption after assumption, certainty after certainty-and that's an exhausting process, one that often takes years, not days and weeks. I don't have definite numbers, but would guess the old 'many are called, few are chosen' description applies: many leftists start to grow up, then shrink from the task. I hope she'll go the distance and become an asset to America. You and the other folks mentioned in her article have done a truly FINE job not only of planting the seed for one leftist, but showing your fellow conservatives how it's done. I'm going to try to do likewise. Very well done, and thank you for sharing your experience, eh?"
Ari Armstrong replies: Of course, I am not a "fellow conservative," I am a libertarian. The writer is too harsh on Pam. Just because she disagreed with gun ownership, doesn't imply she was bigoted toward gun owners. The class just encourged her to think more critically about the common stereotypes that are out there. I think it odd to sound a pessimistic note when "the glass is 1/8 empty." Besides, it takes a long, long time to change fundamental ideas. And Pam will continue to be a great journalist even if she remains a "leftist."
"She's still very much a pacifist liberal, and feels that she has a moral obligation to create a world without 'guns and all forms of violence.' She equates guns with violence, and refuses in her pitiful gut-wrenched existence to allow herself to consider that guns could actually be used to save lives. Would she have preferred that the police she called to rescue her from knife wielding attackers had no guns? So, she had an epiphany, and found out that 'gun nuts' are human beings after all. Why should we applaud her for going "doh" about one of her stereotypes? I think it's charming that she has suddenly declared people like me human, but her story is more tragic to me than heart warming. Forget about all of her touchy feely talk. She still has negative views regarding the second amendment, and would rather proudly be a victim than defend herself. She needs to spend two years with those nice people instead of just two days..."
Ari Armstrong replies: Just because Pam took the time to counter stereotypes against gun owners, doesn't mean she previously bought into those stereotypes or perpetuated them. Similarly, just because somebody denounces racial stereotypes, doesn't mean that person previously advocated those stereotypes. I mean, give her a break! Pam wrote a great article, for which she deserves credit rather than denunciation. If there needs to be more understanding among some on the left, perhaps there also needs to be more understanding among some on the right...
"Overall, a very honest assessment by someone who opened her mind to alternative views, and who was taught by people who acted like mature, moral adults... and she likes double-taps!"
"I was very impressed with her honesty regarding both firearms and her own feelings. If only more 'antis' could be as open-minded as Miss White our job would be very easy. This is an important read!!"
"This is a healthy and honest perspective of an anti-gun type who had the integrity and guts to face some of her prejudices head-on and with an open mind. I would challenge everyone who reads this to pass it along to one of your anti-gun friends or acquaintances... I am!!"
"This was a good article. It is refreshing to see some honesty in journalism, especially from someone who considers themselves on 'the left.' I do have to take issue with the quote about Jesus saying that self-defense isn't a valid option. Most people don't take the time to study what Jesus actually was saying when it comes to 'pacifism.' Sell your garment and buy a gun suitable for concealed carry!"
"Very impressive, and I'm impressed with her honesty... to objectively evaluate and try something that was totally foreign to her way of thinking. However, one point, I think she is mistaken when she believes Jesus advocated a non-violent response to violence perpetrated against you. Many religious leaders profess that refusing to protect your life, when possible, is akin to suicide. And many places in the Bible advocate self-defense when the occasion calls for it."
"...[Y]ears ago my boss used to chide me because I had a MAK90. He owned a Ruger .357 revolver and enjoyed shotgun shooting but he liked to rib me as a 'militia' member who owned an 'assault weapon.' I coaxed him out one Saturday and he burned a few 30 rounders through the evil rifle. He had a ball! Did he run out and buy one? no, but the jokes stopped. I think if you want to reach some folks, the best way is to leave the Constitutional/Founding Fathers arguments alone and just show them how much fun it is to go shooting."
"That was beautiful... It brought a tear to my eye."
"Simply Outstanding read...T hanks for sharing that with us."
"I'm glad I wasn't the only one whose eyes got moist reading Pamela's piece. This is one of the most compelling, moving stories I've read in a long, long time."
"...She seems to be saying, 'I met them and they're really a bunch of great people and I enjoyed myself and I like shooting, but I still think we should outlaw the guns because a dead victim is soooooo morally superior to someone who used a gun to defend themselves.' If she had been writng viscous attacks on shooters prior to this, I'm sorry, but this doesn't make it. If you drive 50 miles left and then drive 10 miles right, you are still 40 miles left. Please let us know when she writes a strong piece advocating the death of AWB."
[Ari Armstrong replies: I didn't get that impression from her story at all.]
"This lady kept her word, took the course (had a tough time with part of it, but I won't hold that against her... she still stuck it out), and gave the topic a good, objective, study. Her writing skills are superb... It would be a bit extreme, and even would cause me to doubt her sincerity about her previous position, if she suddenly got so enthused that she wanted to write a piece on abolishing the AWB. Let's get real..."
"...I believe that she had/has a hangup against self defense use of a firearm because of her lingering mental anguish over her attack years ago. She admits it indirectly numerous times in the article, and when finally confronted with pulling the trigger while aiming at a simulated cardboard attacker she litterally fell apart and ran in tears from the range to lock herself in a bathroom! IMHO, someone who has such deep and strong emotional hangups is not qualified to tell anybody else what they should or should not do. Her hangup is not guns but violence... She explicitly equates guns and violence... [I]t seems absolutely wrong that a child be raped and murdered without intervening with the level of force necessary to prevent it. If violence is so wrong, then why is it wrong to stop it? Would this woman stand by and let a criminal kidnap and murder her child, or would she try to stop it? Would she allow a vicious animal to maul her child to death, or would she try to stop it? If a rapist attacked her would she lie there passively or would she fight back. All three cases involve some level of violence to stop the attacker, even if just her fists. She is confused and engaged in wishful thinking."
[Ari Armstrong replies: Pam did NOT leave the room during range practice (as her article notes). Her response was completely understandable, giver her previous trauma, and it indicates nothing about her intellectual analysis of the issue or her ability to use a firearm or other means of self-defense. My guess is that she would fight to the death to protect her children, as I think almost all mothers would, which probably does reflect a tension in her thinking.]
"Excellent article. It shouild be required reading in public school. Most important is the fact that not all should have guns but all should have the freedom to. I think we're all guilty of stereotyping. We should strive not to."
"I just wanted to take a moment and thank you for the honesty you exercised in writing about the NRA class that you completed. It's sometime difficult to explain to people that are anti-gun how the law abiding citizens in our state (or any other) are simply exercising our rights under Colorado law, and that most of us view this as a hobby as well. After reading your article I thought about the first time I took my Wife out to the shooting range and instructed her in the safe handling and shooting of a firearm. She too was very apprehensive and nervous about the whole experience. 4 years later we have both completed our training classes and applied for our concealed permits, and she now feels very comfortable and much more at ease with her firearm. All it takes is a lot of practice... just like anything else. I hope that your training class and time on the range was an overall good experience for you, and that you possibly have a little different outlook towards the people who choose to make the decision to carry a firearm for their own safety and the safety of their families and friends."
"Ghandi tried to stir up armed rebellion first. It didn't work, because the Indian people wouldn't go for it. So he went the only way they would go. It was a wild success, invented by the pacifism NOT of Ghandi, but by that of his people. And perhaps that of the English, who may have been quite weary of revolts. Jesus said many things, but he didn't say just to lie down and die. To the literal reader, he contradicted himself on a number of issues, but preserving innocent life was high on his list of good things to do always--except in the case of HIS life. Buddha was a Sikh (offshoot of Hinduism--Arjuna, one of the extreme important early Hindus, was a great archer and warrior) prince, which pretty well means he started life as a warrior. And Zen Buddhists are fabulous archers and famously use the bow, a weapon designed for killing when it's called for. Martin Luther King, Jr. used pacifist means because he knew that open revolt would simply get his people killed, and he believed that the peaceful way was the first thing to try. I think everyone here would agree with that! I never have gotten the idea that King ever thought pacifism was the ONLY way, although I'm less informed about him than about the others she mentions..."