For those of us both for and against guns the debate runs hot and is often devoid of common sense. But even when passions run deep outdoor communicators have a responsibility to bring a level of intelligence and reasonableness to the conversation befitting professional journalism. I believe this extends to our personal lives and interactions as well.
As evidenced by the recent and swift destruction of noted gun writer Dick Metcalf’s career, my opinion may not be widely held in the industry (outdoor writer Brandon Butler covered this nicely: driftwoodoutdoors.com/noted-gun-writer-fired-over-editorial). The short version is that Metcalf wrote a column critical of the opinion that any firearms regulation is an infringement of the 2nd Amendment.
In no way was his argument anti-gun, or even close. It was, however, informed, thoughtful and un-apologetic about offering a counter-opinion to what he deems an incorrect interpretation of the Constitution. But instead of inspiring a reasonable debate on the topic, he was proverbially ridden out of town on a rail for his heresy. This is a huge problem. We can’t eat our own and expect anything good to follow. It also makes our professional community look ridiculous to anyone observing from afar.
Appropriately, the most concise remedy to this situation is found in a quote frequently seen on hybrid mini-car bumper stickers and falsely attributed to Ghandi: Be the change you wish to see in the world. In our case it’s the firearms and sporting culture world.
Whether you’re an editor in charge of procuring content, writing a column or having a conversation at dinner it’s crucial to represent our sporting and firearms culture with dignity and thoughtfulness. Let me be clear, I am not suggesting you adopt neutrality – quite the opposite, actually. Probably no surprise, but this is where I tip my hand and say I feel strongly, personally and politically, that guns remain an embraced, established and legally protected part of American culture. It’s a fair assumption most readers of this column feel likewise.
To tie this back to the non-Ghandi quote I trotted out, the change I’m suggesting is one of tone and approach when dealing with neutral and/or anti-gun people. The approach should focus on converting these folks to a positive stance on firearms. This means the tone should be polite, informed and not dismissive of the fears/opinions/misinformation you will encounter – no matter how ridiculous.
Listening is important because, at least in my experience, many of the reasons people have anti-gun sentiments are based on misinformation. Understanding where the negative feelings come from is key to debunking them. It’s amazing how many people who consider themselves strongly anti-gun know virtually nothing about them. Taking the time to respectfully educate someone may just change his or her mind.
Of course there are always going to be people who can’t be persuaded. Maybe they are informed but just don’t believe, for example, in a right to self-defense. Not much you can do, but engaging with these folks in an intelligent, balanced way will be hard not to respect – and may change their opinion of what a “gun person” is. And it’s a universal fact that hating someone you respect is really tough.
But I need to revisit the Metcalf situation to fully make my point. He isn’t one of the people I address above. He’s neither neutral nor anti-gun. Rather, he’s a member of our pro-gun community. What happened to him personally is a glaring problem, but the sentiment it represents is even worse.
As professional outdoor journalists we have to accept that reasonable internal debates make us stronger and more able to address external threats. The natural extensions of dialogue with each other are conversations with our critics that change their minds.
Originally published in The Blade.