Gun rights are under attack and continuously face trial in the court of public opinion. You are their defender, and the gun-control crowd is looking to poke holes in your credibility to make us all look ignorant, bigoted and delusional. The Return Fire series is intended to arm you for the debate so that we no longer have to cede the high ground. But you must be informed how to hold the intellectual advantage by avoiding some of the common pitfalls. We are trying to lead the public, and credibility is currency in leadership.

Be Able to Back It Up

Illustration By: Brian Fairrington

The gun-controllers are making the claim that more restrictions will protect people. That claim has a lot of problems, and their evidence is patchy at best. Focus on that. Constantly ask them to explain their claim and to provide meaningful support to back it up. These people will try to shift the burden on to you by demanding you explain why you even need a gun — do so, briefly, and then go back to their claim.

When you make a claim, you have to prove it, which shifts the burden back onto gun rights. When you say something like, “It’s not the guns, it’s…,” you are making a claim that you then have to prove.

Even valid claims tend to seem like scapegoats, and these weaken the pro-gun-rights argument. Guns can be implements of violence, just like knives, explosives, vehicles and even cyber-attacks. Causes of violence, however, are wide and complex. We are right to point out that fixating on implements of violence, particularly to the exclusion of causes, is problematic because when a murderer can’t get a gun, he or she will typically move on to another tool.

Gun-controllers claim restrictions will bring mass shootings down, but I care whether their proposal will bring mass killings down enough to justify an onerous burden on my right to be left alone. But too often, people trying to defend gun rights just shrug off that crucial conversation with, “It’s not the guns, it’s bullying, lack of prayer in schools, mental health and lack of parenting” or something else. Don’t fall into that trap.

Consider ‘Mental Health’

This isn’t wrong, but it is extremely complicated, and it sounds like a deflection. Yes, mass murderers tend to have very serious mental health problems. But we have to be careful not to stigmatize all mental health issues in the process. Insomnia is a mental health issue, but just because I have trouble sleeping doesn’t mean I want to be flagged during an NICS background check. Nor should we inadvertently argue for requiring a psych evaluation to buy a gun. We as a society need to do a better job of caring for the mentally ill and protecting people from the few truly dangerous people. But if you are going to toss “mental health” into the discussion, you need to offer solutions — and proof that those solutions are viable.

The gun-rights case is strongest when we listen to our opponents, address their concerns and educate them on current policies and how their proposals would impact Americans in a practical way. Our case is weakest when we gallop across “bad” talking points and “distractions.” Worse yet, doing so is unnecessary. Let them do that.

Make a Compelling Case

A good argument has structure to it. Two examples of an efficient way to structure an argument are major thesis/minor thesis and FIRAC (Facts, Issue, Rule(s), Application and Conclusion). The first method is defined as a main argument supported with one to three reasons. Provide an explanation for the first reason, with one to three external supporting pieces of evidence or sources to back it up. Do the same for the second reason and the third. Close by restating the main argument and how it fits in the big picture.

In the case of FIRAC, address these five concerns:

  • Facts: What does everyone agree on?
  • Issue: What are we actually arguing about?
  • Rule(s): What are the current laws?
  • Analysis: How do the rules apply?
  • Conclusion: What should we do about it?

That said, you do not have to write a college essay every time you engage someone on the internet in a firearms discussion. But you need to have the discipline to present a case, dominate it with evidence and support it with the actual law. That builds your credibility and leaves your anti-gun adversaries looking like amateurs.

Win Friends, Influence People

Anti-gun forces only have to ratchet public opinion one notch at a time to defeat us. We need allies, and we need to give people who are neutral toward gun rights a reason to sympathize with us. Remember that for every person posting something online, there are maybe five people reading it; these are the people you are trying to win over to our side. Each internet debate is an opportunity to introduce someone to the realm of personal defense. Every challenge is an opportunity for us to tell our story and sell our narrative — and maybe win some allies. Win hearts and minds by making a compelling case supported by solid evidence. Let the anti-gun crowd throw weak and inaccurate arguments at you. Let the anti-gunners look foolish in front of their online audience. You need to be the adult in the room.

Doyle is a concerned citizen and gun-rights advocate. His opinions are his alone and do not reflect the official policy or position of his or any other agency. References and links to other gun advocacy sites do not imply endorsement of those organizations. He can be reached at [email protected].