I had a breakthrough moment last night. It was on the IRC channel for one of my projects. The developers, and the IRC’s regulars, are a small and tight-knit group. By a coincidence completely unrelated to the nature of the project, we’re all firearms fanciers who take a firm line on Second Amendment rights. Occasionally the IRC chat will turn from project-related technical matters to topics like the relative merits of various pistol calibers.
Occasionally people will show up on the channel looking for project-related help. Some of them become semi-regulars on the channel because they’re often working technical problems for which the project is part of the solution. One of these guys hopped on the channel last night while we happened to be in the middle of a firearms digression, listened for a bit, and then started to spout.
“Why do you guys think you need firearms?” “Criminals will just take them from you and use them against you.” “They’re useless for anything but killing.” “You can’t seriously think they’re a deterrent against overreaching governments, the cops will just come for you you first.” And on and on and on, the same factually and historically ignorant babble civilian firearms owners are wearily used to hearing – as if civilian firearms had not been culturally and politically decisive in hundreds of struggles for freedom, from the American Revolution clear down to short-stopping Communist counter-coups in Russia and the Baltic States as recently as the 1990s.
I listened to the others on the channel offer polite, reasoned, factually correct counterarguments to this guy, and get nowhere. And suddenly…suddenly, I understood why. It was because the beliefs the ignoramus was spouting were only surface structure; refuting them one-by-one could do no good without directly confronting the substructure, the emotional underpinnings that made ignoramus unable to consider or evaluate counter-evidence.
The need, here, was to undermine that substructure. And I saw the way to do it. This is what I said:
“You speak, but I hear only the bleating of a sheep. Your fear gives power to your enemies.”
Ignoramus typed another sentence of historical ignorance. My reply was “Baa! Baa! Baaaaa!”
And another. My reply was more sheep noises, more deliberate mockery. And you know what? A few rounds of this actually worked. Ignoramus protested that he wasn’t a sheep. At which point I asked him “Then why are you disarmed?”
The conversation afterwards was completely different, and ended up with ignoramus speculating about meeting with one of our regulars in his area to do things with firearms.
I learned a valuable lesson last night. I’m not normally a fan of mockery and attacks on a man’s character over reasoned argument. But when the real issue is in fact the man’s character – specifically, when the issue is where he fits in terms of Dave Grossman’s seminal essay on sheep, wolves and sheepdogs – then that’s the level on which the argument has to be conducted.
I think, now, that gun owners need to be replying more often to hoplophobes simply by echoing their “Baaa! Baaa! Baaaa!” back at them. Because only that reaches the actual fundamentals of the thinly-rationalized anti-firearms prejudice we so often encounter.
And besides being more effective, it’s in a sense a more honest kind of argument, too. Because for many of us the fundamental emotional issue is the same, seen from the other side. Yes, rational consideration of costs and benefits on both individual and social levels amply justifies firearms rights, but for many firearms owners that is surface structure. The substructure is more like this:
We are not sheep. We will not behave as sheep. We are armed because we refuse to be sheep.
Very few of us are ever likely to be at a place and time when civilian firearms change the course of history. Ordinary crime prevention is a far more likely outcome, but still…for most people, most of the time, the most important thing about bearing arms (or its inverse, being willfully self-disarmed) is not what it enables you to do to the other guy, but what it signifies and reinforces about yourself.
Will you be a sheep, a peasant, a subject, an endless means for anyone willing to use more force than you? Or not?
You never know – someday, history might turn on your answer…