Failing at advocacy – You’re not helping

Yes, it’s perfectly legal in many states. So is staring at a woman’s cleavage and making comments about it. Yet it’s bad form to do both.

Paul Martin

So the latest “gun rights” ruckus is a group in Texas did an “open carry” meeting at a Chipotle restaurant. And everyone’s got their panties in a wad about it, on all sides of the issue.

Chipotle is asking people to not do this (full statement in this article). While parts of the statement do sound like they “personally” are anti-gun (given their choice of words and phrasing), in the end it seems they ultimately want to stay out of this political issue and want to just focus on selling burritos. I can’t say I blame them, and frankly that’s probably the best stance they can take on this issue.

So please, open carry folks, stop it.

Look I get it. You want to normalize open carry. If we keep it under wraps, how will it ever be normal? Frequently it’s compared to bigotry against blacks or Jews or homosexuals — if you keep it hidden, if you never allow it to just integrate and be part of everyone’s daily life, how will it ever become normal? I get it.

Here’s the problem.

Pro-gun people will see you, nod and smile and move on; but these aren’t the people you’re trying to convince. There will be strong anti-gun people that you will never win over (just like there will always be racists and homophobes that will never be convinced otherwise); so don’t worry about them too much. So who is there to convince? The people in the middle.

Alas, the primary message the people in the middle receive is that “guns are bad”. You know it, I know it. Part of why you’re doing what you’re doing is precisely to counter the notion of “guns are bad”; you’re trying to show people that “guns are normal”. So you KNOW “bad” is the primary message being broadcast and received. It’s because that’s how guns are portrayed in the mainstream media, and thus it’s the dominant message received by the eyes and ears of the masses.

How does you sitting in a restaurant with a rifle on your back convince people that such behavior is normal? Remember, a person defines normal as “what I do/say/believe”, and since they don’t sit around with guns on their backs hanging out with other people who have guns on their backs, therefore what you are doing isn’t “normal” (in their eyes). They don’t know you, if you really are a good person or not, if you’re normal, if you’re trustworthy. And throw in their (irrational) fear of guns, and you’ve made a horrible first impression. And yes, it’s irrational, but the present zeitgeist has made everyone afraid of and skeptical of everything, from the food we eat to the air we breathe to the people we interact with. If people are going to be operating from such an initial state, how do you think they are going to perceive you? Why are you acting surprised that  people (the “sheep”, the “grasseaters”), are scared of you?

How does this win anyone over to the cause?

How is this good advocacy?

You have to stop thinking about the message you think you’re sending, and start thinking about the message being received. If you want to show people that gun owners are normal, then act normal — or perhaps more importantly, act in a way that others perceive is normal.

What do normal people do when they want to convince someone of a position? They engage them and talk with them in a comfortable manner. If Jane Soccermom sees a big scary guy with a big scary rifle, do you really think she’s going to allow you to walk up to her and engage her in a dialogue? I know, it’s not fair, it’s not right to judge people by the way they look, but it’s how our monkey-brains work, so get over it and learn to use it to your advantage instead of having it perpetually work against you. Again, the message you are sending is failing because the message received is NOT the message you intended to send.

If a co-worker expresses something about guns, don’t get in an impassioned battle with them to shut them down and prove them wrong. Instead, just talk with them — or more importantly, listen to them. Address and validate their concerns. It’s not a time to push agenda, but to listen and understand their point of view. If you can, invite them to the gun range some time to shoot a gun (and make it reasonable, like an outdoor range shooting a .22 at a bullseye paper target; and make it fun).

Look, if Ted Nugent can help Anthony Bourdain gain understanding, then you can too. But until people can see things like Bourdain sees them, they’re going to see them as they see it — and you with an AR strapped to your back looks not-normal, and will only serve to make them think that Bloomberg and Erika Soto Lamb and their ilk are actually right and rational.

The next big “gun rights” issue here in Texas is precisely open carry. If we want to win on this, we need to proceed in a manner most likely to garner positive public support. Because despite what Chipotle thinks, it’s the role of the people — not elected officials — to set policy in this area. So let’s work to win the minds of the people by helping them understand. Help them see what is normal by acting normal. And most of all: stop focusing on the message you are trying to send and instead focus on the message being received. When the message being received is the message you’re trying to send, then you’ve succeeded — until then, you’re not helping.

Updated: Even Linoge, one of the biggest open carry supporters I know, agrees. You’re not helping.

2 thoughts on “Failing at advocacy – You’re not helping

  1. Even looking past the specific details of their strategy and how they are doing it wrong, the simple fact is that their strategy has failed three times in a row now.

    It is time to either rethink your strategy or abandon it all together once you start racking up a losing streak like that.

    • Indeed. That whole “definition of insanity” thing. And someone else pointed out a very important thing: if your tactics result in more “gun free zones”, then you are failing in your mission — your (persuasive) tactics suck. Please stop, you are not helping.

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