Three Minutes of Fame

Last month, I was down in Tampa at the Gun Rights Policy Conference. About midway through day one, I was listening to a speaker when there was a sudden, unassuming tap on my shoulder. I twisted around in my chair and saw General Allen Youngman, one of Tom Givens’ many high-flying friends. With politely hushed tones and a subtle gesture, Gen. Youngman led me out into the lobby for a chat. Since I had only just met him about thirty minutes earlier (thanks to Tom), I had no idea what he could possibly want to discuss with me. But (1) he’s got that awesome white hair and an aura of humble command that just kind of makes you do whatever he says, and (2) he’s a freaking General. So, with a dutiful “Yes, sir,” I followed him outside.

Five minutes later, I was busy collecting my jaw from its crash site on the carpet. Gen. Youngman had asked me if I would be interested in speaking on small arms policy at the United Nations. The who? I’m sorry, what? Are you mixing me up with some other short, chubby black girl at this conference? Oh wait, scratch that…

As gobsmacked as I was to even be considered, I wasn’t boiling over with confidence that this thing would actually happen. The invitation was peppered with various iterations of “we’ll see” and “can’t say for sure” and “nothing’s final yet” and other such caveats. But the grand poobah of provisos was Gen. Youngman’s warning that the final decision would have to be made by a board or committee of some sort… which happens to be based in Germany… and is comprised of bigwigs from nine or ten different countries. So I privately revelled in the thought for a while and then filed it away in the “Dream On” drawer.

Oh, so wrong was I! Ten days and a few dozen emails, text messages, and phone calls later, I snagged myself a last-minute flight to the Big Apple. It was on! Somehow, some way, this chubby black girl was about to give an address to the First Committee of the United Nations General Assembly. [Insert image of me doing my happy dance.]

There were, I think, 24 or 25 NGO speakers raring to go. General Youngman was there for the Defense Small Arms Advisory Council (DSAAC). Other speakers appeared for the Sporting and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute, the National Firearms Association of Canada, and the World Forum on Shooting Activities (WFSA). I was there for the Second Amendment Foundation (under the wider umbrella of the WFSA). The other 20-some-odd speakers were all opposed to firearms. We were, ironically, out-gunned. I should have expected as much when I saw this sculpture at the entrance to the UN building:


But let’s back up a few days to when I was at home looking more or less like this…

The most difficult part for me was cutting down my speech down to three minutes. I was repeatedly told that the time limits were very strict and would be rabidly enforced. (Incidentally, several of the anti-gun speakers droned on for much longer than three minutes with zero consequence. So, yet again, it’s the gun people who bend over backwards to follow the rules, while the anti-gunners take liberties. But I digress…)

In my (apparently pointless) effort to respect the imposed time limits, the editing process for my speech had been quite the roller-coaster. It included several rounds of emailing written drafts and audio recordings back and forth to Gen. Youngman for feedback (he was tremendously helpful, by the way). In one version, I spoke about a recent meeting of the Faculty Senate, where a colleague of mine rose in opposition to campus carry. She was gravely concerned that an emotionally disturbed student or professional adversary might come after her with a gun. I explained how I favored campus carry for precisely the same reason.

But that got cut.

Another version put guns in the same category as chainsaws, blowtorches, and other potentially dangerous tools. As Hollywood has monetized more than once, a psycho with a chainsaw can easily wreak unspeakable havoc. And yet, no one asks the lumberjack to forfeit his most effective implement and fell the forest with his bare hands. Why not? Because they trust him to wield that chainsaw safely and only within the limited context for which it was designed. Gun-owners deserve the same level of trust, at least until their actions suggest otherwise.

Alas, that got cut too.

I also had a mildly passive-aggressive quip in there about all the Secret Service personnel and other armed security guards assigned to protect the UN delegates and dignitaries, while folks like me enjoyed no such luxuries. I think that one might have been a bit too wag-of-the-finger, so it got chopped as well. At one point, one of the powers-that-be had edited my draft to say something about supporting efforts to “reduce the availability of illicit firearms.” While I liked the rhetorical tactic of throwing a bone to our opponents, I tweaked that language to condemn “illicit violence” rather than “illicit firearms.” Guns themselves are not “illicit.” Only certain behaviors are.

After eight or nine drafts, the final product was done. So, fast-forward back to New York. I printed out the speech, tucked it away in my jacket, and proceeded to set off the metal detectors at the UN security entrance, like a champ. My heart rate crept skyward as the security dude told me to “Step back please, ma’am. Okay, now come on through again.” Beeeeeep. Sh*t. “One more time, please.” Beeeeep. F*ck. Did I forget to remove something? I don’t wear belts, and I don’t have keys. My embarrassingly functional shoes were from Payless, so I seriously doubted they’d have any fancy metals in them. What could it be? “Step over here, ma’am; we’ve got to sweep you with the wand.” Beep, beep, beep, b-b-b-beeeeeep. At this point, I was bracing to be tackled by Homeland Security and whisked off to Guantanamo Bay. But I suppose at last the security dude figured I couldn’t be much of a threat, and he let me pass. The baby face does come in handy sometimes, I must say.

It wasn’t until days later that it occurred to me. That was probably my snazzy new bionic hip that was setting off the detectors! I keep forgetting about that thing. At any rate, here’s my UN adventure, as it unfolded from that point forward:

Phew! Mission accomplished! Or at least, speech delivered. Not sure if it accomplished much. However, I do have one major takeaway that I hope to employ in future contexts. The personal stories were by far the most engaging and (I think) the most persuasive. Folks on the other side spoke in gripping detail about family members being persecuted and loved ones victimized — all at the hands of this evil, horrible pestilence that is the dreaded firearm. I happened to know the logical fallacies of those arguments, but the UN delegates certainly didn’t. And I couldn’t deny that those stories were compelling.

On the other hand, most of our speakers focused on the economic and recreational benefits of the firearms industry. Especially on the international stage, that (IMHO) just made us look like money-grubbing capitalists with no sense of human empathy. Them: “My mom and dad were gunned down in the streets, and I fled to another country.” Us: “I’ll see your dead parents and raise you one fiscal year of impressive profits and jolly good times on the range.” Not exactly great odds on that one.

That’s why General Youngman had encouraged me to focus on my own personal story, and I’m glad he did. Instead of spouting the usual NRA talking points, I introduced the delegates to James Banger, Jr. — not a nebulous foreign concept, but a real person, and my best friend (may he rest in peace). Yes, his dreams of being an aerospace engineer were cut short by a gun-wielding bad guy, and at first that made me hate guns. But then I had to wonder, if James himself had been armed, would I still be talking about him in the past tense?

I’m sure my measly three minutes won’t change global small arms policy. And let’s be clear: all the other speakers on our side were SMEs of the first rate. They had probably forgotten more about firearms than I could ever hope to know. Those guys had all the technical stuff covered, but I hope that collectively we managed to invoke a bit of firearms poetry rather than just prose.

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