What the gun nuts could learn from the queers (and I use both of those terms affectionately)

I’ve been meaning to write this for a while, especially since the open-carry advocates in Wisconsin (whom I support, just FYI) have been working harder at spreading the message that openly carrying firearms is legal here. There was that case in West Allis within the past year that was sort of their “Stonewall moment,” and this week was the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, so no better time to write than now.

For those who don’t know, the Stonewall Inn was the name of a gay bar in Greenwich Village in the 1960s. As a gay bar, it and its patrons were frequent targets for harassment by the cops. Mind you, by all accounts what went on there was the usual bar stuff--drinking, talking, smoking, flirting, maybe dancing--only done by gay men, some of them in drag. In other words, they were citizens exercising their right “peaceably to assemble.” On June 29, 1969, the police raided the bar, ostensibly for a licensing issue, but rounded up patrons and charged them with moral depravity. Again, this was not unusual at the time, but the patrons for whatever reason decided they weren’t going to take it, so they stood up to the cops. Yeah, they got hauled to jail anyway, and charged with resisting arrest, but they at least claimed their rights to exist and associate with one another. That event galvanized the gay population in the neighborhood, and is generally accepted as the spark that started a larger gay rights movement in the U.S.

I see parallels between the struggle for full equality for GLBT people and the issue of openly carrying a firearm. For one, both are based on the Constitution. (Right to bear arms & right to equal protection under law.) Another, bigger parallel is that we both have to wage a PR campaign, and that’s where the gays’ experience can help the openly carrying:

1. Be visible. “Come out” as a handgun gun owner by wearing one on your hip wherever it’s allowed. People are more accepting if they personally know someone of your persuasion, so show your true self as much as possible. If they already know and like you, it shouldn’t be a big deal. Familiarity leads to acceptance. Yes, it might make some people nervous, but treat them with respect and kindness and they’ll see you’re not a weirdo, just an average person. With that in mind,...

2. Don’t be scary. Guns are scary things to many people. Well, so is a 6-ft man in an evening gown. Show that there’s nothing to fear. More to the point, it’s time to lose the “From my cold, dead hand” attitude. Sounding like a zealous nutjob isn’t going to win people to your side. Likewise, soften a belligerent-sounding “It’s my constitutional right” argument by explaining that it’s perfectly legal for law-abiding citizens, so anyone carrying openly most likely is not a criminal and practices safe handling of firearms. Also, tell them that life does not imitate the Three Stooges or cartoons and holstered guns do not go off on their own.

3. Seek common ground. We all share a right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” so show that exercising your rights doesn’t infringe on someone else’s. Just as my marriage (were I able to have one) wouldn’t impact any other marriage, you carrying your gun shouldn’t have any impact on those who are not carrying one. We all value peaceful, safe, secure lives, with good neighbors around us. If we put aside snap judgments, prejudices, and stereotyping and relate to each other as individuals, the better off we’ll be. No one has to like my sexual preference or your handgun, and it is possible to peacefully coexist with those dislikes.

Such a PR campaign can be dodgy for both issues because of people’s irrational fears. Displaying either a rainbow flag or a 9-millimeter makes some folks anxious. We can’t help that. That’s their shit and they have to cope with it on their own. However, what we can do is be good ambassadors for our respective causes. In time, hopefully, those anxious ones will see we’re not out to bother them, so there’s no need to bother us.