The idea behind the ad was to elicit different perspectives on how we can keep citizens safe from gun violence. I wrote it following two recent mass shootings in Ohio and Texas. I naively thought that the majority of viewers would share my outrage. Instead, the majority of responses spewed vitriol at the mere mention of gun control.
After three days of running the ad, I inactivated it. I have thick skin but started to feel discouraged by the negativity and abusive comments. Here’s what I learned about the gun owners who responded:
1. GUNS AND GUN OWNERSHIP IS AN EXPRESSION OF US CULTURE.
Removing guns from law-abiding gun owners would be to strip something innately American from them.
2. THE VAST MAJORITY BELIEVE THE 2ND AMENDMENT IS THEIR RIGHT (SOME EVEN CALLED IT GOD-GIVEN).
They own guns not just to protect themselves and their families, but to maintain the balance of power against a potentially tyrannical government. (I had no idea that this was a real thing – I had sincerely believed this was a conspiracy theory, but that’s what comes of growing up in a non-gun-carrying country.) I understand the concept of hunting. I don’t agree with it, but I can wrap my head around owning a handgun for self-protection. What never crossed my mind was the swathe of people who are not only enthusiasts and collectors, but who are almost stock-piling in the event of a civil war.
3. IF YOU BRING UP THE SUBJECT OF GUN CONTROL, MAKE SURE YOU USE THE CORRECT TERMINOLOGY!
Again, naively, I thought ‘military-grade’ was the description given to any weapon designed for military use. What I didn’t know was that in 1986, these same guns became available to civilians and since then have become ‘sport’ weapons. I still find this baffling, but for the five or so years they were legally marketed, I suppose it made sense to someone that civilians ‘needed’ these weapons too. (The same way someone once thought it made sense to peddle opiated painkillers.)
4. THERE IS A LOT OF ANGER OUT THERE.
I deleted the overtly offensive comments, and when I unhid comments previously hidden by Facebook Spam filters, I wish I hadn’t. Thankfully, there were a handful of people whose responses were insightful and who genuinely wanted to see a better situation out there.
5. THE TOPIC OF GUNS IS FIERCELY PARTISAN.
Republicans are pro and Liberals anti. Not all, but the majority of responses accused the Democrats of wanting to ban guns altogether and refused to partake in a conversation with a “Commie.” I used to agree with banning them, but since writing the ad, I’m not sure this is the answer. Prohibition doesn’t work; it would make the situation worse. But if guns are going to exist, the government and law enforcement agencies need to do a better job of enforcing the laws we already have in place and make the background check process more rigorous.
6. THE MAJORITY OF GUN-OWNERS BELIEVE MENTAL HEALTH IS AT THE ROOT OF MASS SHOOTINGS.
If I’ve learned anything from this ad, I’m beginning to agree. I blamed gun violence on a lack of gun control, which is a factor. But I think it’s the lethal mix of mental health issues and weak gun law enforcement that’s to blame.
My conclusion is that law-abiding gun owners are passionate about their guns, and they believe they have a right to own them. If we take removing their guns out of the debate and focus on criminals obtaining guns, better law enforcement, and mental health issues, we may have a better conversation.