PA Senate Hearing Pt 5 - Mind of the Anti-Firearm Zealot

October 4, 2019

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by: Frank Tait

In addition to the Senate Judiciary Hearings last week, I’ve recently attended Townhalls hosted by Congresswoman Scanlon (PA5), Congresswoman Dean (PA4), State Representative O’Mera, a Radnor Township board of commissioners meeting, a CommUNITY breakfast at Villanova, and spent time with one of Senator Toomey’s staffers. There are consistent patterns in the organization, messaging and legislator pressure by the Anti-firearm owner rights crowd (Anti’s) that we all need to recognize so that we can be successful in protecting our rights. 

The Moms demand, Ceasefire, Gunsense and Heeding God’s call groups leverage each other for getting venue’s for meetings and legislator attention.  They leverage each other on the mainstream media and social media and they get their volunteers to show up at events (yes Bloomberg may bus them in). The pro rights (Pro) community (NRA, GOA, SAF, FPC, CPRC, CCRKBA, FOAC) can do a better job here, in particular, the NRA needs to get much better at collaborating with the other national organizations and with the state specific organizations like FOAC.  The local organizations have a much clearer sense of the pending legislation and they have better relationships with the legislators and their staffs. The Senate Judiciary Committee hearings were the first time that I saw the Pro rights community outnumber the Anti’s.  We can’t wait for statewide level events, we have to be vigilant and show up at the local events as well.

The Anti’s approach this like a war, a process with a series of battles.  They are committed and determined. The Pro organizations approach this like a war, but many of the volunteers that support the PRo side and show up to support functions, treat them like an event with a few stalwarts coming out consistently, bit mist people only coming out for major events.  Depending on the leaders of the Pro organizations and their staff are not enough for us to prevail.  Just like we cannot delegate our personal safety to law enforcement, we cannot delegate the fight for our firearm rights to the Pro rights organizations.  What makes the difference is the people and their time.  People that take the time to write and call legislators and talk to them in person.  Pro people that are listening posts for the Anti’s - sharing to the Pro community where and when they are holding events and then mobilizing Pro people to show up and challenge the Anti’s messaging.

These groups bring out the same “victims” of what they call gun violence and repeat the same emotion laden stories. No one disputes the pain and suffering of these people, but also no one challenges their stories. The Anti’s hold these victims up as being unchallengable.  Senator Haywood read a letter from a constituent whose husband committed suicide (the author of the letter read that same letter at Rep. Dean’s (PA4) townhall a couple weeks previous. It is tragic that the author’s husband committed suicide by using a firearm, but the author mentioned that her husband had previously attempted suicide and that she had hidden his firearm, but he convinced her to give it back.  The author had the opportunity to utilize the 302 process, and did not, and the opportunity to keep the firearm secured from her husband, and did not.  Blaming the gun is easier.  Calling out the author for her missed opportunities is perceived as heartless.

One of the keys in understanding the Anti’s is how they make everything about the gun.  They layer complexity to defining the problem to be solved so that the only common denominator, from their perspective, is the firearm. The first day of hearings was focused on mental health.  A significant portion of the time was spent on suicides as that is approximately 2/3 of what the Anti’s call “deaths from gun violence.” Dr. John Lott and Dr. Gallo clearly pointed out that the states that passed red flag laws, saw a reduction in suicides from firearms, but no change in the overall number of deaths from suicide.  The Sheriff of York County, Richard Keuerleber, told the Senators about the challenges of keeping jail inmates, who were intent on committing suicide, from committing suicide bu jumping from higher floors, hanging themselves, or even choking themselves with toilet paper. Rather than focusing on what we could do to help those contemplating suicide to get the mental health help they need, the Anti’s start adding in other scenarios so that in their mind, the only solution is to take away the guns.  When facts about deaths from other means are brought up, they are just ignored.

The Anti’s prefer an echo chamber.  They only want to provide their side of the story and actively work to keep the Pro perspective out of the hearing of their supporters (Agree with them or shut-up).  They use the illusion of their one-sided events to make it look like their proposals are common ground and get the media and legislators to not even consider the Pro perspective at all or to discredit it as “extreme.”

Dan McMonigle of FOAC made numerous offers to the Anti’s and to Anti legislators to provide a firearm safety perspective on their townhalls and panels.  At best they are politely ignored.  I was invited to the CommUNITY day at Villanova University, ostensibly to be a firearm safety expert on the panel.  The day before, I discovered that I would not be on the panel and that all questions would have to be submitted in writing and in advance and that the Moms Demand moderator would choose what questions would be asked of the panel.  We need to show up at their events with our talking points and make sure that we are heard.

One observation is that the Anti side is consumed by fear.  They have made firearms a scapegoat for their fear.  But they are unwilling to face their fear to get past it.  A proven approach to helping people past a fear is education and training.  As Seth Godin recently wrote, “

Our fears burn so bright that if we truly face them, we think we might be blinded.

Of course, we may think we’re looking at our fears, dead on, but it’s more likely we’re just seeing a distraction, a shadow of what’s actually holding us back.

Because once we’re truly clear about the fear, it fades. It might even disappear.“ FAcing their fear would take away their sense of purpose.

The Pro rights side wants firearms out of the hands of criminals, children who are not properly supervised and the clueless (those who think bad TV and movie gun handling are appropriate).  At all of the events noted in the first paragraph, as a way of saving lived through education, I offered to provide the NRA Home Firearm Safety class for 1,000 people - at no cost by leveraging a foundation that is willing to underwrite the classes.  To date - Not one Anti group, law Enforcement Officer or Legislator has taken up the offer to address the fear that they promulgate.

To prevail in this war of emotions, words and laws, we need to collaborate. We need to keep engaged and informed and we need to keep the Pro message in front of the media and the legislators and our friends and neighbors.  It’s not enough just to vote every election anymore.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4