Wait, Otis McDonald is Black?

I grabbed my phone to screenshot my digital boarding pass, just so I could save it on my home screen for easy access at the airport. That’s when I realized my 10:40am flight in fact departed at 7:40am. Oops. At that moment, it was 6:30am. I leapt from a leisurely packing process to a frantic mad dash. I just knew I would miss my plane, but somehow, the travel gods spared me.

Several hours later, I found myself camped out at a little Starbucks with an absolutely amazing view of the Colorado River in central Texas. It was there, with lots of caffeine, that I finished up the last few slides of my presentation for the annual conference of A Girl and A Gun. I was invited to speak this year, and it was my first time attending. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was slated to discuss diversity: a touchy subject in many pro-gun circles.

Nearly 125 ladies had RSVP’ed (and paid extra) to attend that day of seminars. I was dead last on the agenda, following giants like Tatiana Whitlock and Gabby Franco (both of whom were phenomenal speakers, BTW). I tried to scan the audience, and at first glance I don’t think there were any other black women there, though of course I could be wrong about that. After the long day of back-to-back speakers, I was nervous that folks would be tired, irritable, and ready to leave. Hell, frankly I kinda felt that way myself, since I hadn’t hit the sack until 3am the previous morning.

Finally, showtime. I started with two live polls to gauge how people felt about diversity in general. Here are the results:

That got the circulation flowing and (I hope) piqued some curiosity. From there, I channeled my inner Tony Simon (kudos to Tony and his Diversity Shoot). I had asked Tony a few days earlier if he had any advice for me or suggestions on what I should say to the audience. He said, “tell them to meet people at 60%.” That conversation inspired this series of slides in my PowerPoint, mostly created during my 11th-hour Starbucks session the night before.

That strip of green at the end – that represents potential common ground. Just imagine what awesome magic we could make with even that modest little sliver of accord. No, seriously, stop what you’re doing right now, and imagine.

The presentation rolled on, and about half-way into my time, I had only made it through about a third of my slides. I could tell I was falling way behind, but the conversation was great, people seemed to be listening with genuine interest, and I was getting some fabulous questions from people. So, I just let it roll.

By the end, we had discussed the racist history of gun control (many had no idea), the occasional anti-gun twitches of famously conservative Republicans and pro-gun organizations (lookin’ at you, Ronald Regan), and the priceless gift that left-leaning Justice Breyer unwittingly gave to the pro-2A community as recently as 2016. All of this stuff, I argued, was useful to our efforts to broaden the proverbial pro-gun tent. I wasn’t talking about how to converse with top-tier operators and trainers. Instead, I was offering tips for endearing ourselves to the average, everyday person who is possibly gun-curious, gun-agnostic, or even anti-gun. What do you say? How to you respond? What drives them away? What hooks them in? Below are just a few of my tips:

  • Be non-political. If you’re just breaching the topic of guns with someone who is on the fence, leave all the political ideology out of it entirely.
  • Be relatable. It’s tough to hear someone out if in your mind you can’t help but think, he’s nothing like me. Try ditching the plate carriers and 5.11 pants every now and then if possible. Talk to folks while you look like a regular guy/gal instead of an “operator.”
  • Tell the whole story. Too many pro-gun people only tell the good side, the popular side, the rosy side, the stuff that has been recycled and bumper-stickered so much that it’s now hackneyed. Try discussing other parts of our history, so others can see that we (gun people) are just as multi-layered and complex – and imperfect – as any other group. For example, one lady in the seminar proudly declared that the Second Amendment was written for all human beings. I had to politely add an asterisk to her comment. While it might have been written for all humans, black folk weren’t considered humans back then (as Justice Taney makes clear in the Dred Scott decision, surely the founders did not want those creatures having guns). Obviously, we’ve come a long way since then. But we can’t erase history, even when it’s ugly and uncomfortable. I think the gun community should be more vocal about stuff like this. It would lend us a lot more credibility with groups that are sometimes suspicious of the squeaky clean “guns are the great equalizer” mantra. Yes, it’s true. But it’s complicated. Let’s own that.
  • Use subliminal messaging. Some messages are better delivered by feather than by sledgehammer. Instead of lecturing someone (who is already late to pick up her kids or eager to clock out or whatever) about how non-traditional groups could benefit from joining the 2A fold, try just hanging a photo of Otis McDonald on the wall at the local gun shop. I guarantee you it’ll spark some curiosity from that black guy who just came in to look around and never intended to seriously train. If that guy stops to look at the photo of a hero for gun rights who happens to be black, then boom – golden opportunity to reel him in.
  • Go where the people are. It’s not enough to say, “Anybody is welcome to come to me, and I’ll help them.” If you can, when you can, also go to them. Volunteer to give a short talk at the local YMCA, or the youth group, or the black church or barber shop. They don’t bite. (Well, I’m sure there are some who bite, but no more than the biters in your own tribe).
  • Speak up for others. That means even people who disagree with you. If Ted Nugent calls a Hispanic man “Beanochimp” while the NRA banner sails behind him… Well, when that happens, you have two options. You can sit quietly and look the other way, taking solace and refuge in the fact that at least it wasn’t you personally who deigned to spew such gag-worthy cowplop. Or… you can speak out against the Nasty Nuge and refuse to let him give further ammunition to all those who think the entire gun community is, well, Ted Nugent.
  • Be nice. This one speaks for itself. And one might think it would go without saying. But suffice it to say, well, it needs to be said. And said, and said, and said again. For the love of Thor, don’t be an @$$hole.

Of course, no discussion about race would ever be complete without me bursting into tears. 🙂 So yeah, that happened too. Luckily, the wonderful ladies of AGAG didn’t judge me for it, and some even shed a few tears right along with me. I know, I know. I should stop being such a cry baby. I had every intention of keeping it together for that session. But apparently that plan was overruled.

After the session, I got tons and tons of great feedback. I also sent out an email to the entire group with summaries of my points and links to related material online. I hope it was helpful. Apparently, someone liked it, because a few days later I got invited to the Women’s Luncheon at NRAAM. That’s later today. Wish me luck!

I’d like to thank Julianna, Robyn, Debbie, and all the wonderful ladies of A Girl and A Gun. I hope to be invited back in the future. Later in the week, I heard someone casually refer to “colored people” and then express genuine shock that the phrase would have ever ruffled any feathers. She honestly had no idea that term had died on the same hill as poll taxes and literacy tests. I had to take a moment to educate. I also got a lot of comments from people who had no idea that any racial drama even existed, in the gun community or otherwise. “I don’t even notice race,” many professed. That’s a whole ‘nother topic.

There’s still so much more work to be done.

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