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A plea to responsible North Carolina gun defenders

[1]Please, please, please ask your hardcore allies to calm down

As anyone paying attention to policy debates in North Carolina in recent days is well aware, the age-old battle over guns and gun violence is front and center right now. Thanks to a proposal narrowly approved by the state House of Representatives last week [2], North Carolina is a step closer to deregulating the carrying of concealed weapons.

A practice that leaves millions of people feeling queasy (even when it’s closely regulated through mandatory registration and training laws) could soon be, for all practical purposes, a complete free-for-all. Under the proposed bill, 18 year old children whose brains, science confirms, are far from fully developed, could soon be completely within their rights to pack loaded handguns in their sweatshirt pockets without any training or oversight whatsoever – even as they are denied the right to lawfully purchase beer (and cigarettes in several states and cities).

Not surprisingly, the latest debate has raised temperature levels for many of those who have felt compelled to participate. For anti-gun violence advocates, the proposal is just the latest in a long string of what they view as destructive and dangerous policy developments. In a nation awash in both intentional and accidental gun violence (rates here are far in excess of those in most of the rest of the world [3]), the notion that we would make it even easier for people to secrete loaded guns on their persons is mind boggling.

As advocates at North Carolinians Against Gun Violence [4] recently observed:

Of course, for some supporters of gun rights, the issue raises just as many passionate feelings. From the perspective of those for whom the Second Amendment (or at least the second half of it) is holy writ, the notion that they even have to campaign for such a change is frustrating. As far as they are concerned, the right to own a gun is absolute and vital to their freedom and safety. This is from a story in Raleigh’s [5]News & Observer [5] last week:

A record number of Americans carry a firearm for personal protection because it is increasingly evident that law enforcement cannot always be there to protect us,” Catherine Mortensen said. “This legislation simply expands self-defense options for law-abiding citizens.”

Giving license to intimidation tactics

That there are such dramatically different positions on the gun question comes, of course, as no particular surprise. We Americans are a divided bunch these days on a wide range of issues. That pressures and conflicts of the kind that typically afflict societies as disparate and rapidly changing as ours are running rampant in 2017 is quite predictable – if not a whole lot of fun.

One very important, problematic and unique aspect of the gun debate that has once again reared its head in recent days in North Carolina, however, is the troubling posture that some gun rights supporters have seen fit to adopt. Simply put: many gun supporters have chosen to behave like bullies – bullies with guns.

For a classic example, read Policy Watch reporter Joe Killian’s story from last week [6] about pro-gun groups personally targeting lobbyists representing those opposed to the concealed carry bill. As Killian explained:

Pro-gun group Grassroots North Carolina is striking back at those opposing House Bill 746, the omnibus gun bill that would do away with most concealed carry permits for handguns.

On their website and newsletter, the group is publishing the photos, phone numbers and – in some cases – home addresses of lobbyists working against the bill.

In a post…accusing the lobbyists of taking ’blood money’ and endangering domestic violence victims, the group encourages its members to reach out to the lobbyists.

Some readers may remember that Grassroots NC did this same sort of thing to the late journalist Mark Binker some years back in what they called a media ‘warning shot.’”

Sadly, these are far from the only such bullying tactics employed by gun rights supporters. On social media and in the “comments” sections of website after website, gun supporters have been posting angry, often hateful and even threatening statements about the concealed carry bill.

Here at NC Policy Watch, we regularly receive such comments – often profanity-laced and featuring derogatory put downs of other commenters. Here’s a typical one we chose not to approve for publication on Killian’s story:

Just wanted to say the first to comments are Fkn liberals… Leave America if you dnt like the freedoms… We shouldn’t have to vote. It’s our right as free Americans. Enough said.”

And while harsh language and imagery is plentiful on the Internet, it’s almost always more harsh and more plentiful when it comes to the comments of gun advocates. That’s certainly the case on the Policy Watch sites. Anti-tax advocates are regularly harsh – even hostile – when criticizing progressives, but it’s rare that they are so – well, violent.

Some such posts even feature photos (or links to photos) of the commenter brandishing a gun. The conservative Civitas Institute saw fit a few years back to distribute a photo of its entire staff holding firearms for the camera. The director of Grassroots NC is featured in such a way in a promo for this weekend’s Civitas “Conservative Leadership Conference.” [7]

Going too far

From the perspective of some pro-gun advocates, such passion and imagery no doubt feel justified and even wholesome. They see someone brandishing a semi-automatic rifle to back his or her political position (someone they agree with anyway) and feel warmer and safer.

From the perspective of those with contrary views, however, it’s almost impossible to see such things as anything other than not-so-thinly-veiled intimidation. It’s one thing for progressives and conservatives to give each other heck (and even to get fairly personal) over most of the issues of the day, but when the fight is about machines designed to kill and participants are anything other than extremely careful about the posture they adopt and the messages they send, the situation can quickly get dangerous. As events (like yesterday’s one-year anniversary of the horrific Orlando Pulse nightclub murders [8]) remind us on an almost daily basis, the modern world is full of troubled souls who need little to spur them to delusion-driven violence. In such an environment, publishing home addresses of those whom one disagrees with about weapons is not the act of a responsible advocacy group.

It’s essential, therefore, that responsible gun rights supporters speak up. Notwithstanding the angry and mixed up rants and imagery favored by some hardcore advocates for whom guns are the be all and end all, there are pro-gun rights advocates who know the truth.

These people know that gun control advocates have no more intention of “confiscating their guns” than they do of coming after their automobiles or any other potentially lethal but legal device. They know that delusional notions of progressive gun control proponents somehow imposing martial law are just that – delusional. They know that on an ever-more-crowded planet, there must be some kind of reasonable regulation of killing devices, especially those designed for mass murder. And they must know that as human technology continues to advance at the rapid clip it’s currently on, there will likely come a time at which the very nature of “guns” will change fundamentally and the notion that society must forever be guided by the rules established by people who used muskets as their weapon of choice will rightfully be seen as absurd.

So, please, responsible gun rights supporters, please speak up. Tell your emotional and hardcore gun rights allies to ditch the violent and threatening language and imagery. This is a difficult issue – one of the most difficult. But surely we can address it without helping to undermine the basic principles of democratic discourse that Second Amendment absolutists claim to want so fervently to preserve.