The next mass shooting is imminent. The attacker is already in the detailed planning and preparation phase.
Gun-control advocacy groups are also preparing because they know they have a short “policy window” after a tragedy to swing public opinion and legislatures toward tighter gun restrictions. Gun-control folks are vetting messaging and marketing materials through focus groups. Their lobbying firms in Washington, D.C. and state capitals are drafting legislation proposals to roll out after the next mass shooting to take advantage of the emotional momentum to shift the needle of opinion and public policy.
Gun-rights advocates must also prepare: We should focus on preventing and intervening against a mass murderer, but we also have to prepare for the inevitable ghoulish wave of public messaging and policy debates in the aftermath.
After a Mass Shooting — Slow it Down
Emotions and tensions run high immediately after an attack. It is easy to get caught up in rumors and even conspiracy theories about the incident. Take a day or two to let the fog of violence settle and the facts surface. Some suggest a three-day moratorium on social media posts after an attack, which is worth considering. It will help you hold the moral and intellectual high ground. You may have noticed that major gun-rights groups don’t respond at all for days or even weeks after an incident; we don’t always have to add fuel to the public-discourse dumpster fire. I think we should engage early, but we have to do so thoughtfully and with a focus on paralyzing their momentum.
Mass murders — particularly school shootings — are terrifying. Many parents feel an innate and visceral emotional connection to the victims and a powerlessness to protect their own kids. That feeling is amplified and distorted by media and our personal psychology, but it is real, and it is useful to address it in gun-policy debates. If you enter a discussion with someone on such a topic, acknowledge his or her frustration and consider recognizing your own frustration. That can help you build a connection. We are all worried about our kids and trying to protect them.
Hold back the urge to argue outright or “gunsplain” his or her misuse of gun nomenclature; it will tend to get you alienated from the conversation. Instead, engage in discussion such as this: “I understand you want to ban magazine clips and semi-automatic assault guns. Talk to me about how exactly you want to do it and where you want to draw the lines — because I want to help protect people too, and I think we can probably teach each other. Would you be willing to come to a range with me so we can look at and discuss some of the equipment you want to regulate?”
Expose the Disconnect and Redirect the Energy
Most gun-control proposals have almost nothing to do with mass murders, and the gun-control folks know that. They use the emotional tidal wave of a mass shooting to push political gun-control measures and ratchet gun control a couple of clicks tighter. You can start this engagement with a question: “You said you want to ban assault weapons, but we had a federal ban on them from 1994 to 2004, and states like California and New York still have them. There are extraordinarily tight restrictions all over Europe, and they don’t seem to make any difference — why will this time be different?”
A lot of the energy in gun-control advocacy stems from trying to take back a sense of control after a victimizer exposes the vulnerability of our children and public spaces. Calling for legislative action feels like taking meaningful action, whether or not doing so actually helps. You can guide that energy toward something more useful. Encourage your friends to learn more about the warning signs of an attack by sharing the books Warnings Unheeded: Twin Tragedies at Fairchild Air Force Base (2016) by Andy Brown and Columbine (2009) by Dave Cullen. Also encourage them to get substantial trauma first-aid training. Hopefully none of you will ever have to personally experience a mass-violence event, but if you do, you may have to help someone who has been seriously hurt.
Gun-control folks use the emotional tidal wave of a mass shooting to push political gun-control measures and ratchet gun control a couple of clicks tighter.
Arguing on social media can quickly become circular and aggravating. You have to read the mood of the discussion and recognize when engaging will be counterproductive, but that doesn’t mean your work is done. What you can do is help rally your friends to join and donate to the gun-rights group of your choice. When our gun-rights organizations work with legislators, they need to have intimidating membership numbers and campaign-donation war chests. Supporting groups on social media is a start, but a membership card and a serious donation will always carry more weight with the House and Senate.
Stand Ready to Stop Shootings
Gun-control advocates are counting on exploiting the next tragedy to build momentum for their cause. Stand ready to stop both the next attack and the next wave of wrong-headed activism.
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].