Have you ever met someone who holds intractable anti-gun views who also knows a lot about guns? No, stay with me. This is a serious question, and I mean no disrespect. I haven’t yet encountered a person knowledgeable on guns, concealed carry or shooting in general who also holds strong anti-gun views. Not one. There have to be some, but it appears they are very few and far between.

Why is this? Perhaps there’s an underlying fear element that provokes strong negative reactions to the topic of guns. I used to think staunch anti-gun activists had an overwhelming passion for preserving human life, but that argument quickly fails the most fundamental logic test. For example, drugs are associated with death far more than guns, yet there is little societal angst and certainly no protests in the streets over that issue. This year, 80,000 people will die from drug overdoses. If you break out the age brackets, that’s a Parkland- or Sandy Hook-level mass youth death toll every single day of the year. Yes, that many children and young adults die each day all year long.

You might also explore drunk driving. Drunks murder as many innocent people on the roads as crooks with guns, yet there are no marches in the streets calling for Sauvignon Blanc background checks and bans. The list goes on, so one has to wonder why the disproportional emotional response to guns? I suspect it’s fear-based. As author Andrew Smith said, “People fear what they don’t understand and hate what they can’t conquer.”

Diminishing Fear of Guns

Fear evokes a chemical response. Fear also evokes an emotional response. The interesting thing is that the emotional component of fear can be either unpleasant or desirable, as when watching a scary movie or visiting a haunted house. Those are examples of a positive emotional response to fear. In those cases, you know there is no physical danger because you’ve been exposed to Jason and Freddie Krueger movies and the Haunted Mansion at Disney with no ill effect. So, that fear diminishes as an unpleasant response.

A variety of handguns of all styles and calibers, including both evolvers and semi-automatic pistols, laid out on a bench at an outdoor shooting range.

If a picture like this evokes an irrational fear response among one of your friends, it might be time to take him or her to the range. (Photo by Tom McHale)

Fear can also be rational or irrational. If a hungry polar bear steps in front of you during your morning walk, that’s a rational fear. If seeing a gun in a glass display case creates a fear response, that might be considered an irrational fear or phobia.

Face the Fear

Guess how phobias are often treated? Systematic desensitization and controlled exposure. In regular English, that means that counselors help you confront your irrational fears head-on. By doing so, those stimuli evoke less of a fear response in the future. If you have an irrational fear of Chia Pets, perhaps a good course of treatment might be to place one in your yard. As you gain confidence that it won’t attack, bring it to the porch and eventually into the house. Good Chia.

The same basic concept applies to guns and shooting. What better way to tackle a perceived fear and lack of understanding than to learn and experience the topic first-hand under safe and controlled conditions? You and I know that gun ranges are some of the safest places around. On the whole, our community is fanatical about safety procedures and rules. Others may not know that, so it’s up to us to show them.

As psychiatrist Karl Augustus Menninger said, “Fears are educated into us, and can, if we wish, be educated out.”

How You Can Help Change an Anti-Gun Mind

That’s where you come in. If each one of us took one guest who is not already an experienced shooter to our favorite range on a monthly or even quarterly basis, there would be no more ridiculous gun-control legislation in this country. How many of the politicians and activists campaigning for laws that will accomplish exactly nothing have ever been to a range? Not many.

Over the years, I’ve taken a number of people who are either neutral or opposed to guns on a range outing. Without exception, every single one returned having had a great time. They all enjoyed the experience. They all were nervous. They all conquered their fears with education and supervised experience. The overwhelming majority of them expressed an interest in doing it again.

Numbered stalls and benches at an outdoor gun range.

An outdoor range is the ideal way to expose someone to shooting for the first time. There’s room to teach, and it’s a lot quieter. (Photo by Tom McHale)

That doesn’t mean that a range visit will convert someone from an anti-gun activist to an avid USCCA Elite Member. As Virgil Thompson said, “Try a thing you haven’t done three times. Once, to get over the fear of doing it. Twice, to learn how to do it. And a third time to figure out whether you like it or not.” True words. It takes time, and not everyone will come full circle. But what will happen is that the wall of automatic opposition will crumble. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have our voting booths packed with people who understand the gun issue. Whether they are fans or neutral is secondary. That they are informed is the win.

Two Positive Outcomes of Range Time With Anti-Gun Folks

In summary, you can accomplish two positive things by taking someone opposed to guns to the range:

First, if underlying fear of the unknown and misunderstanding is a reason for his or her opposition, you can address this concern and anxiety head-on. Remember what FEAR stands for: False Evidence Appearing Real. By showing the individual what a gun is and how it works, reviewing the safety rules, and encouraging him or her to nail the bullseye on his or her first targets, you’ll turn what might have been a phobia into a victory. Who doesn’t love a pleasant surprise?

Second, you can, and will, shatter the stereotype of the crazed gun owner. A trip to the range can show that person you are a normal, safe and responsible citizen. You’re not crazy or bloodthirsty. You don’t want violence. You don’t want to impose your will on others’ lives. You just want to be left alone and to protect your family, if necessary.

Here’s your challenge: Consider your friends list and make a conscious effort to extend some range-outing invitations. You’ll have far more of an impact on gun rights that way than arguing on Facebook.

About Tom McHale

Tom McHale, author of Armed and Ready: Your Comprehensive Blueprint to Concealed Carry Confidence and 30 Days to Concealed Carry Confidence, is a Certified NRA Instructor for pistol and shotgun. He participates in ongoing training and will be completing the USCCA Certified Instructor program in the near future. Tom is passionate about home and self-defense, having written seven books and nearly 2,000 articles on guns, shooting, reloading, concealed carry and holsters. When he’s not writing, you’ll find Tom on the range.