I walked into the office where our town’s library supporters hold periodic used-book sales. Before I could reach the shelves, the manager — as pleased with herself as a kindergartener on show-and-tell day — handed me a sheet of paper she was about to tape to the wall.
The page, torn out of a notebook, held a crude pencil drawing.
The picture, though hard to make out, was of a live baby on one hand and a dead toddler on the other. Between them was a figure of a man holding a rectangle, pointing it at the dead child.
“REPUBLICAN ABORTION,” the text read: “Don’t kill them before they’re born; kill them after they’re born.”
It took me a moment to realize this was a representation of the latest “progressive” Twitter meme: Those evil gun-lovers (Republicans by definition, don’tcha know?) don’t approve of abortion, but they’re perfectly happy to have living children shot to death. The rectangle in the man’s hands, it turned out, was her attempt to draw an automatic weapon.
Now, I know this woman — not well, but by long, casual acquaintance. Call her Wanda. Everybody who values the local library knows her as a tireless and effective volunteer. OTOH, everybody who follows local politics knows her as an ardent activist in our small, but assertive, “resistance” group.
But she knows me, too, and if she’s ever listened during our many chance conversations, she knows I’m a libertarian/anarchist. Why she handed me that thing, obviously expecting me to agree and cheer her Twitterpated cleverness, I couldn’t say.
Handing it back and curbing my irritation at being confronted with propaganda at a charity sale, I said, “Wanda, I don’t agree with you on this issue. I’m a gun-rights supporter. I don’t want to engage with you about it, because this is an area where there’s no middle ground, there’s no place for a meeting of minds. So let’s just leave it at that and not butt heads.”
She would not leave it at that.
She proceeded to barrage me with every bit of the standard anti-gun cant. The children this. Machine guns and bump stocks that. “Canada and Sweden this. Somebody’s got do DO something that. Nobody needs this. Sandy Hook and Parkland that. Exactly like a car so on so forth and etcetera.
Every freaking cliche in the disarmament repertoire — none of it backed by anything but headlines, Twitter, and emotions.
At that point, had I had my wits about me, I’d have either walked out or I’d have re-stated, “I’m not going to engage,” then ignored anything further she said. I knew she’d just keep talking at me about the subject as long as I’d allow it, so walking out was probably my best course.
But so much of what she blurted was so blatantly, almost cosmically, ignorant! So voluminously, verbosely ignorant!
I tried to answer or at least provide a different perspective. I told her about Gary Kleck’s research on defensive gun uses. I noted the connections between genocide and disarmament. I pointed out that the kind of laws she wanted weren’t effective. I reminded her that most of the big school shooters either got their guns illegally or through failures of existing laws and systems. I asked her if she knew about the biggest-ever school massacre in the U.S. — which wasn’t committed with firearms.
It was like talking to human Jell-O.
Her side of the conversation was ever-shifting and filled with non-sequiturs, unpredictable wobbles of subject. If I even came close to making a good point, she’d zoom off in some other direction. Example:
She: “You can’t fight a government with guns because the government always has more.”
Me: “Really? Vietnamese peasants beat the most powerful military in the world. Resistance movements in Europe couldn’t stop Hitler, but they certainly put a crimp in his plans and saved innocent lives. Look at Afghanistan. A bunch of tribal goat herders first defeated the British, then the Russians, and now they’ve fought the U.S. military to a standstill.”
She (triumphantly): “But you wouldn’t want to live in Afghanistan, would you?”
Not until after I left did I guess what she meant: You wouldn’t want to live in any country that had enough guns to defeat a government. Me, I was thinking more along the lines of not wanting to live in an Islamic, warlord-controlled, tribal hellhole where women have no rights and little boys are raped for sport. But to her, guns was all that counted. If Afghanis could drive three of the biggest empires on earth out of their country, by definition they had too many firearms.
And although of course she didn’t say it aloud and never would: Everyone should submit unquestioningly to the superior force of the strongest government. Because a nice, settled tyranny or successful foreign invasion is always preferable to the chaos of armed resistance. And of course our government always knows what’s best for us — as long as the right people are in charge.
She also had the curious attitude that, since she had never needed a gun, nobody else could ever need a gun. She recalled times she’d been perfectly fine without a firearm in a dubious circumstance, therefore anyone else’s desire to own a gun for personal or community protection was sheer paranoia.
Similarly — yet more weirdly — she was convinced nobody could possibly build guns at home (as I said many would if her laws were passed). Why not? Because she didn’t know how to build a gun at home. She thought the very idea was outlandish, ridiculous, impossible. “You could build a car at home, too,” she snipped, “but nobody would try.” She had no idea that a firearm is a much simpler mechanism than an automobile. Didn’t realize a well-equipped garage workshop and a capable operator could produce a firearm. Or multiple firearms. (Good thing I never mentioned 80% kits or 3D printing.)
And: “We don’t need guns. Because to solve our problems we have ….” and here she started ticking items off on her fingers “… the vote. And universal education. And …”
At that point I stopped her to tell her how effective I thought those things were for protecting either individual or political freedom.
I don’t know how long we talked. Ten minutes at most, just the two of us in the store the whole time. We covered a lot of territory in those minutes because of her rapid subject switching. I felt like she was firing at me with a fully automatic, random spray-and-pray anti-gun cliche weapon. The only bit of old nonsense she didn’t verbally fire was Kellermann and his “43 times more likely” fraud. Oh, and she left out Saturday night specials, too; but then, those are passe in this era of “semi-automatic machine guns” and Republicans who want all the dead schoolchildren only a “high caliber magazine” or a “shoulder thing that goes up” can produce.
She knew nothing beyond Twitter level. She’d never cared enough to inform herself on the issues. But by damn, her ignorance was passionate, and she knew she was right about everything.
I belatedly got smart and left without looking at the books for sale.
The only positive is that the conversation was civil on both sides and never ventured into Twitter-rage territory.
But I was, as they say, triggered. Quite rattled inwardly. I knew I shouldn’t have engaged at all and I was ineffective when I did.
I do my damnedest to avoid discussions with emotionalist slogan-slingers. On the occasions I get sucked in, I find it a scary reminder of the mindset of those who most avidly want to control others. They don’t need facts because they have ideals. They don’t need research because data and case studies are cold, and they’re such warm, caring people. They don’t need history because they’ll do it better when their sort are in power. They don’t need knowledge of human nature because people will change when laws tell them they must. They don’t need economics because as long as it’s “for the children” no cost is too great. They don’t need to listen to other points of view, because the slogans they’ve memorized say everything that matters. They do need guns and bigger prisons and the world’s most enormous and invasive killing force to make their fantasies come true, but they don’t like to think about that. After all, they’re the nice people — unlike us paranoid, murder-loving savages.
There was only one moment where I may (it’s impossible to know) have reached her. Even then, I don’t think I reached her in a positive way.
She: “Nobody will ever come after you. You’ll just have to become more responsible and register your guns with the government, just like you do your car.”
Me: “Ain’t happening, Wanda. Even in places like New York and New Jersey, where people are a lot more conditioned to government intrusions than we are, compliance with their new gun laws is practically nil. Nobody can know the exact figures, but the best guess is that only about five percent are obeying the kind of laws you advocate. Almost nobody. Everybody else is just keeping their guns private and keeping their mouths shut about it.”
Non-compliance was among the many things about which Wanda had no clue. Apparently she had never even considered the possibility.
Finally, in that moment, she appeared to believe something I said. Finally, she didn’t change the subject to The Dreaded Bump Stocks or “the children” or hunters who carelessly shoot horses. She just went silent — briefly, but wide-eyed with alarm.
As I left, she was tearing off a piece of tape to affix her impromptu poster to the wall. I doubt that’ll help the library any; not in this rural, pro-gun community. Me, I’ve been a regular at the monthly used-book sales, but that was my last.