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Dealing with social bullies

Here’s a question someone asked me recently, and what I told her.

Lately I am finding myself frequently on the receiving end of criticism, inflamed statements, and unfounded or irrational comments from casual acquaintances. Most of these happen on social media or in the work place. My natural tendency is to defend my views, and to try and help them understand better that responsible gun owners, like myself, are not the problem. Perhaps the best response is no response, to keep my lips zipped, which, when at work, is what I do. But with comments made to me outside of the workplace, I don’t want to have to hold my tongue. Can you offer any suggestions on how to be articulate and maybe, perhaps, effect a small change in the way they view responsible gun owners? The last thing I want to do is to come across as sarcastic (although I really do want to be sarcastic). I guess you could consider this almost a “Miss Manners” type question! I appreciate your taking the time to read my words, and am hoping you or your alterego, Gunhilda, will have some sage advice for me!

Oh, dear – if you don’t want to be sarcastic, perhaps we’d better not ask Gunhilda for advice about what to say! I’m sure she’d be funny, but I’m not sure she’d be helpful on this one.

Right now, there’s a very determined social effort to shove gun owners back in the closet. Those of us who have owned guns for a long time have been there before, and I at least am never going to step into that closet again. It wasn’t a comfortable place to live.

The past four or five years have been an absolutely golden time for gun owners, as it almost overnight became socially acceptable to own guns for self defense in a lot of areas where historically it really wasn’t. So I think the small shift in social attitudes back toward the negative side in some circles has probably taken a lot of us by surprise, because a lot of us never experienced the giant level of nastiness gun owners used to deal with all the time. That’s a good thing! Still, it might comfort you to know that it’s happened before in a much more extreme form, and we as a community overcame it by each of us, individually, being brave enough to stand up and be counted.

Here’s an amazing visual record of how many states have passed different types of concealed carry laws over the past few years. I love this graphic because it lets us visualize how things have changed, not just on a legal level, but also on a social level. Those changes in the law were driven by ordinary people saying, “Yes, I own guns and care about my right to protect myself with them.”

What I’m getting at is that even though things feel negative right now, you’re not alone and that’s not where our society really is. Given the record number of women who own guns and the huge upswing in new gun owners, the negativity you’re dealing with right now is almost certainly a very temporary change. But that will only be true if we each individually and all collectively hold onto our social courage. If we all shut up, the bullies will win.

It really is a form of social bullying, when someone tries to make you feel ashamed or embarrassed about something important to you. Appeasing bullies never really works; it just tends to make them bolder and more insistent. So it will take some social bravery to face down the bullies and hold onto the gains we’ve made in recent years.

On a personal level, you’re right to keep your lip buttoned at work because that’s your employer’s time, not yours. You may want to memorize one or two gentle mind-openers that you can use when someone is really insistent that you must express an opinion. For me, I’ve always found that referring to something small and personal often helps. Something like, “I was sure glad I had my firearm the night two men tried to rob me. But this isn’t a good conversation for me to have at work, so …” followed by a quick subject change back to something work-related.

Among people on Facebook and other social media, it’s both trickier and not so tricky. You can make it clear that you expect people to be kind and polite to you at all times. They don’t have to agree with you, but anyone who tries to shame you really does not deserve access to you and your circle of friends. If you post a beautiful picture of your family members at the range, and someone says something rude about it, you don’t have to put up with that. If some writes you a poison-pen letter that pokes at all your most painful vulnerabilities, you don’t have to accept it. If someone threatens you – either individually or collectively – it’s entirely right to speak up and say, “That’s wrong.” It’s up to you whether to simply delete those comments without reply, or whether to confront the person about their rudeness, but you should never let someone else’s rudeness shame you into silence.

Again: this is bullying, pure and simple. If you stand up for your right to be treated with kindness and respect, bullies tend to back down and go away. If you cave or cringe, they tend to get noisier. It has nothing to do with whether they agree with you, so don’t get hung up on that part. It has everything to do with insisting on your right to expect basic standards of civility from people who interact with you. If someone is snarky or rude to you, you have every right to say, “That’s not an acceptable way to treat me.” If someone is rude to one of your friends, you can tell them you will not accept them treating your friends with disrespect. This is very, very different from saying, “You’re not allowed to disagree with me on this subject,” and much more powerful.

Along the same lines, we’re facing a backlash driven by both ignorance and fear. “Ignorance” is such a dirty word in our culture, but all it means is that someone doesn’t know something they need to learn. This means education can go a long way toward helping people understand what you do and why you do it. After you have settled the “I will be treated with kindness and respect” issue (not before!) you can tackle gently educating your friends. This doesn’t have to be a big long hairy deal. Rather, stick with the simplest things you do know and can easily explain.

Stories are always powerful. If you have a story of your own, be brave enough to share it with others, to whatever level of detail you’re comfortable with. Pay attention to the news too. For instance, you can talk about stories like this to explain why an ordinary good person might 1) want to be armed; 2) want to be armed at home; 3) want to have more than a few rounds of ammunition available to her; 4) might not be able to call the police instead of protecting herself; 5) might want to own a gun even though she has children. There are lots more lessons in that story if you think about it, but of course you’re not going to bring every single point out. Just choose one, put it into a single sentence, and run with it. Keep it super short and really sweet.

If someone uses a phrase that makes no sense – something like “semi-automatic machine gun” – you can gently correct the wrong idea without making your friend feel bad. But you can only do that if you understand a little about the mechanics yourself, which means you might want to do a little studying about how guns work. It’s also good if you know a little bit about the history of gun control or why semi-automatic firearms became so common, and know a little bit about how guns help reduce violent crime.

But most of us can’t carry numbers around in our heads that well. We can all remember our personal stories, though, and we can all share stories of things that have happened to others. Stories have power.

If you remember nothing else when talking to your friends, remember this: your story has power, and your life is worth defending.

5 Responses to Dealing with social bullies

  1. mgutterres says:

    Great read. I have always responded with something to the effect of, I take responsibility for my safety and the safety of my loved ones, and anyone who ignores the very real dangers that exist in this world, by not having the ability or inclination to protect themselves, is either willfully ignorant or irresponsible or both.

  2. Pingback:Cornered Cat: Dealing with social Bullies - INGunOwners

  3. dehavik says:

    As with other sensitive topics like religion, lifestyles, or politics, we have the option of politely and directly offering to educate someone: “I’m happy to talk about this with you if you’re really interested, but I don’t want to argue.” Often, it’s apparent after a few sentences if they just want to fight or vent. We can always offer to discuss or educate when their emotions aren’t so heated. If it happens again, the best approach is to change the subject, because “this isn’t a topic I want to discuss with you”.

    This approach keeps us calm, and is useful in places where we regularly see the instigator, such as work or family. Being polite, firm, and direct can disarm those looking for a battle without appearing conflicted or ashamed about our personal choice to protect ourself.

  4. George says:

    Amen, Kathy! I’m convinced that this thing will be won buy being out, proud, and polite.

  5. larryarnold says:

    “The past four or five years have been an absolutely golden time for gun owners, as it almost overnight became socially acceptable to own guns for self defense in a lot of areas where historically it really wasn’t.”

    True.

    Back about 1998 friends would sincerely ask, “What’s a nice guy like you doing in the National Rifle Association.” In Texas.

    Now my local community education program is begging for gun classes.

    Elsewhere there was a documentary, “Debutant Hunters,” winning an award at Sundance, “Top Chef” with an episode where the cooks had to target shoot with .22s to “hunt” their wild game ingredients, and yuppie tree-huggers are discovering that hunting for the dinner table is green.

    There’s a whole nouveau gun culture out there that didn’t exist ten years ago. And the anti-gun folks haven’t figured it out yet.

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