I had the dreamiest weekend ever! I was surrounded by vocal Second Amendment advocates at the Second Amendment Foundation’s 31st annual Gun Rights Policy Conference. This year’s conference was held in Tampa, Florida. That meant I enjoyed the luxury of crashing with Tom and Lynn Givens, who now live in the Tampa area (free room and board with a pair of the world’s most awesome individuals always makes out-of-state travel more palatable).
This was my first time at the GRPC, and I must say, I feel silly for not attending sooner. There were lots of great speakers, lots of friendly faces, and lots of opportunities to finally shake hands with folks whose acquaintance I had only previously made via Zuckerberg’s book of faces. I met authors, activists, county sheriffs, army generals, and even a few people working on global small arms policy at the UN. And of course, I also had the pleasure of meeting Alan Gottlieb, the founder of SAF.
The speakers were numerous, as were the topics covered. Over the course of two days, many of the speakers were limited to 10 or 15 minutes, so that gives you an idea of just how many speakers there were. The agenda moved at a frenzied pace, as the moderators were relentless timekeepers. Even with the vast breadth of information, a few running themes quickly emerged. See if those themes reveal themselves in this grossly oversimplified list of my most vivid memories from the weekend:
- Gun policy info
- Gun policy litigation updates
- State X is confiscating guns.
- State Y is confiscating guns.
- We hate Hillary Clinton.
- We hate Barack Obama.
- We hate Black Lives Matter.
- OMG!!! I just shook hands with super-lawyer Alan Gura!!! (a fellow Georgetown alum, I might add)
- Gun policy info
- Speaker A has a book coming out. Go buy it immediately.
- Gun policy info
- We hate Democrats.
- Wow, there’s John Lott!
- Lott makes excellent point about gun control hurting black people and poor people in urban centers more than anyone else.
- We hate liberals.
- We hate vegans.
- Gun policy info
- Liberals suck.
- Crude Hillary Clinton impersonation.
- Donald Trump is the Second Coming.
- Okay maybe Trump isn’t Jesus, but Clinton is definitely Lucifer
- Gun policy info
- Speaker B has a book coming out too. Go buy it as well.
- Gun policy info
- We love open carry.
- I suppose we tolerate gay people now.
- Two members of Pink Pistols talk about how the Pulse shooting has united the gun community across political lines.
- But liberals are still the scum of the earth.
- Gottlieb’s son makes a plea for SAF to target more millennials.
- Gun people are not ignorant, toothless, racist, old, white, bearded, beer-bellied rednecks.
- Ad hominem Hillary-bashing, Barack-bashing, Bill-Clinton-bashing, Black-Lives-Matter-bashing, Chuck-Schumer-bashing, Andrew-Cuomo-bashing, Loretta-Lynch bashing, bashing bashing bashing bashing bashing bashing
- But we welcome everybody. Honestly.
- The media sucks.
- Unless it’s Breitbart.
- Oh my actual holy sh*t. It’s George Zimmerman. He’s ten feet away from me. Don’t punch him. Don’t punch him. He was justified. He was justified. Ask to interview him? Maybe? Hmm…
- We hate abortion.
- Open carry is awesome.
- What a shock! After a satisfying quickie of glad-handing and basking in celebrity, Zimmerman has vanished like an apparition. I guess he doesn’t need to stick around for any actual education on gun policy.
- Hillary is a syphilis-ridden, lice-infested, despicable, filthy leper.
- Information on guns and media (Which sucks. Unless it’s Breitbart.)
- A segment on urban outreach – oh boy! Oh wait, no, actually 90% of it was personal biography. Never mind.
- Gun policy info.
- Dang it, I missed the segment on 3D printing.
- Election strategy, get-out-the-vote strategy.
- Mas Ayoob could read the phone book and I would still be riveted.
- Detailed overview of Clinton’s documented historical policy stances on guns, objectively contrasted with Trump’s documented historical policy stances on guns.
- Just kidding. That last one didn’t actually happen. But Hillary is a disgusting, verminous, phlegm-spewing hack of a tit-post.
- We love guns.
- A few resolutions passed.
- See you next year!
For the most part, the gun policy stuff was very interesting, useful, enlightening, well-researched, well-presented, and practical. I took a lot of notes and made plans to check out several new websites and books. And speaking of books, boy, did we get lots of free ones! This will definitely make my luggage overweight for the trip home, but hey, it’s worth it!
And then there was the Q&A session. I had two burning questions I really wanted to ask, but didn’t. (1) Where are the black people? Out of possibly hundreds of attendees, I think I might have spied four or five black folks over the weekend, and two of those were speakers who left after their own spiels on stage. What is SAF doing — what are we all doing in our local circles — to make the broader pro-gun community less gray-haired, less testosterone-laced, and less uniformly Caucasoid? Anything? Is it our attitude that, hey, our doors are open, anyone who wants to come is free to come, and if they don’t, well, screw ’em? Or are we willing to take a more proactive role in attracting a more diverse crowd?
(2) I really, really, really wanted to ask the SAF’s position on this statement from Donald Trump, which he made in the wake of the recent North Carolina riots. He was explaining how the police should utilize New-York-style “Terry stops” in Chicago to combat inner-city shootings and black-on-black crime (in the video below, this starts at roughly the five-minute mark):
They’re proactive, and if they [the police] see a person possibly with a gun or they think may have a gun, they will see the person and they’ll look and they’ll take the gun away. They’ll stop, they’ll frisk, and they’ll take the gun away. And they won’t have anything to shoot with….”
Am I the only one who finds these comments disturbing? Don’t get me wrong. I am willing to grant that there might be some missing context given the limited airtime. Perhaps Trump meant that guns would be confiscated only temporarily, and only in the limited context of the stop, and only with reasonable suspicion of a crime, and only for the duration of the stop. Maybe he also meant that people’s lawfully-owned and lawfully-carried firearms would always be immediately returned if the Terry stop yielded no probable cause to arrest.
But that’s not what he said. He didn’t say any of that. Not a peep. And he hasn’t called for snatching people’s guns in soccer-mom suburbia. No. Only in Chicago, which he considers to be “worse than some of the places we’re hearing about like Afghanistan, you know, the war-torn nations, I mean, it’s, it’s more dangerous….”
Red State has called on the NRA to publicly condemn those comments. Otherwise, I haven’t really seen much in the media about this at all (at least not from what I would typically consider to be the Second Amendment community). And as I was researching news coverage of Trump’s statements, I came across this lovely diatribe in the comments of a related article on FoxNews.com:
This illustrates how my two questions were related. As long as this garbage is allowed to leech onto the gun debate even in the mainstream media (sorry to disappoint, but with its years-long uninterrupted streak of sky-high ratings, Fox News is about as mainstream as it gets), and as long as pro-gun advocates idly tolerate sloppy comments like this from candidates who already have fragile relationships with minority communities, the Gun Rights Policy Conference and other gatherings like it will remain as white as snow. And people like me who do work up the nerve to attend will just sit quietly in the audience and never feel comfortable speaking up to ask questions like these.
I realize those vile comments on the Fox article came from a handful of humanoids, and I realize it’s unfair to attribute them to the gun community at large. And to be clear, I don’t believe for one second that all or even most pro-gun folks agree with these sentiments. But I’m going to be 100% brutally honest here. As a relative newcomer to the gun scene, and as a politically and demographically atypical gun advocate, I very likely would have been afraid to go to a conference like the one this weekend if I hadn’t been flanked by Tom and Lynn. I’m not saying I would have feared anyone doing me physical harm, but I might have feared that someone in the room was looking at me and seeing an “emancipated primate” or a “looting monkey.” I’ve never been to an NRA convention, for a whole host of reasons. But truth be told, that same fear is probably a factor there as well, even if only subconsciously. I’ll admit that might be totally illogical and unfounded. And I’m not claiming to speak for all black gun owners. But I’m just being honest about myself.
If you think this stuff really shouldn’t matter — race shouldn’t matter, diversity is all hype, and we shouldn’t care what race the conference attendees are — well, theoretically I suppose you’re right. It should be utterly irrelevant. But that’s kind of like saying you don’t believe in email or social media. Technically you could exist without it. But that stuff is here to stay and growing fast; it’s palpably, measurably consequential; and it’s inescapable, whether you believe in it or not. Why? Because when we alienate people for the sake of our own egos, self-righteous streaks, convenient platitudes, or plain pigheadedness, those are not only forfeited members, hearts, and minds, but they very well might also be forfeited pro-gun votes.
That being said, let’s end on a hopeful note. I did meet a lot of inspiring people this weekend, and I made a lot of great connections. I really do look forward to attending future SAF conferences, and I’m sure that every year I’ll be less nervous and feel less like a fly in the milk. I’ll also do my best to recruit a few more drops of color to spruce up the room and broaden the wealth of ideas. I hope others will do the same. There’s so much great information to be shared. It’s such a shame to only bounce it back and forth in an echo chamber.
The Second Amendment is about self-preservation. That is not a political ideology. It is a sub-sentience, pre-Constitution, DNA-deep, automatic instinct of every living creature. I honestly do feel like we in the gun community would do well to divorce our Second Amendment stance from other, more divisive wedge issues, at least to the extent possible (obviously they’re not entirely separable). After all, there are plenty of liberal lefties out there who are either pro-gun or gun-agnostic (i.e. potentially persuadable), and we can’t afford to run them off (I can personally confirm that we did run off a few people this weekend). If you want to throw a Hillary-bashing party, that’s fabulous. Do it. But call it that, sell it as that, and let it be that. If you want to throw a Gun Rights Policy Conference, then do that, and welcome people of all political and demographic stripes to come and learn about real gun policy. Otherwise, they’ll get their talking points from bumper stickers and infotainment television, and we will have done precious little to discourage them from doing so.
Friendly Request: If anyone decides to reply in the comments, please refrain from gratuitous politician-bashing. I already got my fill of that this weekend. If you can help me understand Trump’s policy on taking people’s guns in Chicago (as opposed to the alternative candidate’s fitness for the electric chair), or if you have suggestions on ways to diversify the gun movement, I welcome those. Thanks!