The point of public advocacy in a democratic system is to win more people to our side and ultimately drive beneficial changes in the law. Protests, bumper stickers and social media arguments mean little unless we can successfully convince others that we are worth following. Gun-rights advocacy is a matter of leadership: We are trying to influence people across the country and the political spectrum that gun rights are worth protecting and strengthening. That means we must find people who are undecided about guns — perhaps skeptical of gun rights or even hostile toward us — and we must convince them our cause is worth supporting. That is a tough task; how do we attract and develop new allies? It’s more achievable than it might feel. People grow and change constantly, and both personal experiences and world events lead new people toward our cause daily.

Forging Alliances

Illustration By: Jason Braun

When a friend reveals that he or she is concerned about crime and personal safety, it offers an opportunity to recruit someone to the personal-security world and, as a byproduct, the gun-rights world. I make a point of being patient, supportive and understanding about any concerns and reservations. The most important and impactful step I can take is to listen. The right answer for him or her at that time may not be a gun but rather other home-security improvements or a self-defense class. Such a situation is still nonetheless a chance to walk through all of the options, explain the costs and benefits of each, and introduce someone to the self-defense community.

Like any group, Second Amendment supporters are individuals with unique beliefs, experiences, opinions and motivations. And, like any community, there are stereotypes, outliers and a divide in how we see ourselves compared to how others see us. Our public image can be intimidating — and even off-putting — to outsiders, which is a problem as we try to bring those outsiders to our cause. Bringing in new allies requires deliberate effort and a lot of self-awareness.

Are we sending out vibes that could scare away potential new members? It certainly seems like some of us are. I have friends who are sympathetic to gun rights and to personal freedom in general who do not want to be associated with or “outed” as gun supporters. We must fix that. And we can do so without having to downplay or apologize for who we are and what we believe in.

We need to put out the welcome sign while actively looking for potential allies. Former President Reagan once said, “The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally, not a 20 percent traitor.” We can disagree about social issues, fiscal policy and whether the moon landing was faked, but anyone who agrees on gun policy is my friend and ally. And I am going to treat him or her as such.

We also need to actively disprove the stereotypes that anti-gun forces do their best to impose on us. We have been caricatured by mass media and too many politicians as a bunch of old, fat white guys brandishing guns as some metaphor for deteriorating masculinity. But that is laughably inaccurate; there is a vastly wide range of advocates for gun rights.

Second Amendment supporters are a diverse group of people of all backgrounds and lifestyles, and they are young and old. Never pass up a chance to highlight the contributions of shooters such as McKenna Geer from the U.S. Paralympic Shooting Team or role models such as Julie Golob, Jessie Harrison and six-time Olympian Kim Rhode. A gun is an ultimate equalizer, and we can showcase that in competition as well as in the context of self-defense.

It’s Time To Do The Hard Work

If we want to lead the country on this issue, we have to not only act like but also become great leaders, and the most important step we can take in that direction is to go out of our way to be friendly and approachable.

If someone shows interest in the cause, make a point of being welcoming. Your smile and heartfelt handshake are more important to our cause than a sticker on your car. You can guide new friends toward resources from which they can learn more, advocacy groups to which they can donate and positive social media groups with which they can engage. And don’t forget the best bonding experience in the gun community: inviting them to go shooting with you.

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