In the past I have talked about two separate traits I feel are essential for anyone who owns a gun and/or carries it for defensive purposes: Mastery at Skill at Arms and Professionalism at Arms. One describes physical dexterity; the other one refers to psychological maturity. Typically when we talk about Professionalism at Arms we are discussing the bearing and restraint of the gunfighter. This is not an exhaustive analysis though. Professionalism at Arms can directly apply to how we talk to others who might not be gun owners and the impression we leave on them.
Stereotypes have a utility in our social discourse. They act as a tool of efficiency when dealing with others. They also must have a basis in reality to have any value. While we all acknowledge that every individual is, in fact, an individual with unique personality traits, there are certain behavioral characteristics that exist across specific demographic groups that give us a predictive understanding of how someone will react to stimuli. To be sure, the predictive value is not exact by any measure, but it does work at least to a certain extent.
Stereotyping has taken on a pejorative tone in our modern world. The name bespeaks prejudice and often times a racial or cultural animus to a group of people. It suggests the one doing the stereotyping is a bigot or, at the very least, a closed-minded fellow. This is unfortunate in that the term itself is agnostic. There is not necessarily a malevolent aspect to the stereotyper. Still, it is far more in vogue to eschew the term and, instead, use the more clinically sounding phrase: demographic profiler.
Either way, it is a distinction without a difference. Stereotyping, or profiling, yields the same results. Both also require a connection to truth. If I were to say all Italians tend to sit quietly at a family dinner and eat their meals in silence, people would instinctively discount my observation. Their prior experiences, whether in real life or in media, would not jive with my statement. Likewise, if I said that Italians tend to engage in passionate discussions with all family members around a dinner table, most people would naturally agree. This is what they have experienced before, and my observation would be consistent with their observations. When we see an Italian, we have a natural predictive belief that at a dinner table with their family, things are going to be lively. It may not end up being the case, but there is strong supporting evidence, based on our experience, that it will be.
The same goes for the way we think about anti-gun people and, by extension, the way they think about us.
Their view of us (we believe… and it is supported by the way they talk about us) is that we are troglodytes, uneducated, white, lower class or lower middle class; we have masculinity issues and are massively jingoistic. It is a cartoon (and frankly derogatory) version of what might be a small segment of our cultural population. Extrapolating it over the entire culture allows them a feeling of moral superiority.
We do the same thing as it relates to them. The anti-gunner fits a normative stereotype. They are liberal, overeducated, but lazy as it comes to financial ambition. They have little skills when it comes to critical thinking, and have absolutely no knowledge of the “thing” they have so much animosity towards.
The reality is that these archetypes do not necessarily serve either side particularly well. For both camps, though, it should serve as a warning and put each on notice. Behavior that is consistent with the stereotype should be avoided, especially when in the presence of the other camp. On their side, we could say this is simply respectful manners. On our side, we can see it as a definitive reflection of Professionalism at Arms.
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The other day we had a neighborhood get-together. Sandy and I rarely have time to engage in any meaningful social interaction with anyone these days with all the work we have to do at Artemis. On this day, however, the stars seemed to have aligned. We had nothing on our calendar and were able to attend.
Most of our neighbors are fairly well educated and financially successful. Most tend to vote “Republican”, but are not particularly politically motivated. They are far more interested on the fate of Bitcoin, managed funds, and Merlot than on granular political battles in Washington or Sacramento. A few knew what Sandy and I did for a living, but most did not. When they did find out we are weapons trainers, they were intrigued.
Sandy and I live it, and we do forget there is an “exotic” aspect to our work. All were respectful and no one really appeared to have a visceral antagonism to what we do for a living (or perhaps they were simply being polite).
One of these partygoers came up to me and asked me a simple legitimate question. He stated he was generally politically moderate. (He actually stated that he voted in each election, but was decidedly non-partisan). He did want to know though: Why do I think the Second Amendment allows me to have a machine gun?
A lot went through my mind before I answered.
I could easily be combative. Perhaps this is what he was looking for? Or I could be Aristotelian and give him a full dissertation on 2A jurisprudence. Or… I could see it as a legitimate, if not somewhat “odd”, attempt to begin a dialogue. I chose the latter.
“The Second Amendment does not recognize the right to own a machine gun… why did you think it did?”
This sort of took him aback.
“Well… I have heard. I get emails saying that gun people believe it does!”
“Oh no… you have been misinformed. We don’t. We do believe it allows for the ownership of semi-automatic weapons. But no…’machine guns’ are not in common use and, by definition, fall outside 2A protection.”
“What do you mean by ‘common use’?”
From there, a dialogue that began as a simple question, lasted for 30 minutes or so. This neighbor of mine, who admitted to never handling a gun in his life, and really up to this point never considered owning one, took me up on my offer to come into Artemis with his wife and go through our Pistol 1, 2, and 3 classes.
Will he become a passionate 2A supporter? Who knows?… Maybe. It has definitely happened before. But I do know one thing for certain: He will not be a passionate anti-gun advocate.
We build our culture by recruiting new participants. We inoculate ourselves from the extremists by diluting their power. Their power comes from voters who have little or no connection to our culture but believe what they are told. Make them question the stereotype, and they begin to question who exactly the wizard is behind the curtain.