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Impasse: The Emotional Gap Between Gun Owners and Gun Banners

Knowledge cures ignorance. False dogma, on the other hand, may be untreatable. As Twain said more politely, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” If you’ve spent any time listening to the so called “gun debate”, then you’ve noticed that the debate isn’t about facts at all. So where do our beliefs and feelings come from? More importantly, what will change them?

Too often our “facts” are chosen to justify our emotions. Most of what gun-ban supporters think they know is what they’ve seen on TV. Hollywood violence feels “real”, while self-defense is merely theoretical or non-existent. The gun-prohibitionists has never seen what self-defense looks like, let alone touched it, trained for it, and lived with it. Nor have their friends. Instead, “the police” are there to protect them, and self-defense is seen as vigilantism. In contrast, the gun owner thinks he will have to stay alive until the police arrive.

Violence is the quintessential emotional topic, but the message matters. When we read about the mass murder of our children at school, we first have to assemble the words into meaningful descriptions. That takes work and understanding. Even then, the emotions are ugly when we read the news accounts and police reports.

There is a reason the networks show us pictures of injured students on the news. Those images speak directly to our emotions without requiring interpretation or thought. That is both good and bad. Emotional images can motivate us or they can desensitize us. Our emotions can cause us to think or to stop reasoning entirely.

The gun-control advocate blames the tool. He claims that violent criminals wouldn’t exist if it were not for firearms. It is emotionally easier to blame a lump of plastic and metal than to realize that another human being thinks we’re worthless. When reminded that murderers used rented trucks, knives, sticks, and even bare hands, the gun-ban advocate might reluctantly admit that violent predators are real.

Despite that grudging admission, the gun-hater still clings to the claim that self-defense is not the answer. Like the zebra in the herd, they assume a violent predator will attack someone else. The anti-gun advocate assumes they are safe as long as the herd is present…most of the time.

I find it odd that the advocates for gun control have armed bodyguards.

The advocates for gun-control can’t imagine defending themselves with violence. To the gun-prohibitionist, any person who wants a gun is a criminal by definition. Gun-ban advocates think they are saving the poor when they ban guns in our inner cities. For the anti-gun crowd, it is morally superior to be an unarmed victim rather than to stand out as a defender or a protector.

It is as if the disarmed herd would rather not know about the predators who hunt them, as if self-defense is the ultimate social gaff. Self-defense is far too inconvenient to be taken seriously. For them, the solution is to call the police…if you are still physically able to do so after you’ve been attacked.

Gun-ban supporters can’t imagine that people think and act in ways different than their own. For example, they think that violent criminals will obey the next firearms law we pass…even though these same criminals routinely violate the twenty-three thousand firearms regulations already on the books. People who choose to be disarmed can’t imagine that there is an unnoticed world of people around them who are entirely capable of violence, and who control themselves. They are the defenders and the protectors. They are gun owners.

Some gun owners and gun prohibitionists do share a common fault. Both sides may think the gun is magic. Some prohibitionists think a gun causes violence. Some gun owners think a gun will protect them. In the real world, a piece of plastic and steel is a mundane tool.

Reality is tedious and boring rather than magical. In fact, protecting your family requires frequent attention. Self-defense takes practice. Turning the gun into a fetish is easier for both sides. It is easy to understand why.

Our reaction to violence is complex. I find it emotionally uncomfortable to think about violence. Most people do. That discomfort drives some people to look away and pretend that violence doesn’t exist and that they are immune from violence. Repeated exposure to violence numbs the conscience of a criminal predator.

For most gun owners, their empathy with the innocent victim drives them to be a protector. The defender is driven to study violence.

This empathy felt by the protector also kindles an unnatural ability to commit violence. The protector wants to stop predatory violence and to protect the next victim. If the defender can’t be there, then they want the victim to defend themselves. Sure, call the police when you can and file a report, but only once you’ve defended yourself and are safe.

That reaction is more common than you might expect. Many people who claim to be non-violent will break their pledge when their children are threatened. That is a good thing and we should forgive their hypocrisy. It is good to protect the innocent from acts “too terrible to contemplate.” Armed America thinks it is better still to plan for defense and have the physical and mental tools you’ll need.

Once these protectors are aware of violence, then their belief in self-defense is confirmed by the news. Defenders see the futility of “Just giving the violent criminal what they want.” Hundreds of people have been injured while waiting for murderers to reach satiation. Gun owners believe different people are different. Gun owners don’t plan for mercy from the merciless.

This awareness of violence manifests itself in other ways as well. Gun owners notice the thousands of examples were innocent men and women defend themselves with a firearm every day. They notice that poor minorities are most often the victims of violence, and that poor minorities need tools of self-defense more than anyone else.

Gun prohibitionists never notice these examples. It is as if gun owners and gun prohibitionists live in different and largely separate worlds.

Gun owners shake their head at the way firearms are used in popular entertainment. Real gun owners have lived with guns. They know what firearms do and what they don’t do. They know the physical reality of living with lethal force, as well as they psychological reality. Gun owners don’t recognize themselves in today’s violent and stylized “entertainment”.

There is another emotional disconnect between the armed and the disarmed. The people who chose to defend themselves and their families can’t imagine leaving their safety up to the kindness of criminals. Yes, they may fail, but they will not be easy prey.

How do these two worlds meet? The gun-control advocate can discover what he doesn’t know on his own terms. Step into a dojo and take an empty-hand defense course. Take an emergency trauma care course and understand the lethal damage that a knife or a screwdriver can do.

The gun-owner should talk to people who don’t own gun and are not part of his tribe. Rediscover what they don’t know and accept their limitations. We have to live with both points of view. The secret is to respect all the other person’s rights as we do so.


I gave you a thousand words. Please leave a comment. RM

Image: CCO Creative Commons;

Rob Morse

Rob Morse works and writes in Southwest Louisiana. He writes at Ammoland, at his Slowfacts blog, and here at Clash Daily. Rob co-hosts the Polite Society Podcast, and hosts the Self-Defense Gun Stories Podcast each week.