Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Freaks and Geeks

I am going to elaborate more on this post tomorrow, but for tonight:

Hypothetically, you want to get into ham radio operation. You've never done it before, so you're a little nervous and you don't know quite what to expect when you go to the radio shop. You've done your homework, though, so you know a little bit about what to expect and what you want.

You walk into the shop to get started on what is sure to be a fun, exciting new hobby.

Option A: The guy behind the counter is wearing a tin-foil helmet, fiddling with the dials on a reciever. The shop is dark, kinda musty and smells of BO. He turns to you as the bells on the door ring and exclaims "Quiet! I'm trying to see if I can intercept the aliens signals, telling them when to land and take over the world!"

You back slowly out of the shop and reconsider your new choice of hobbies.

Option B: The guy behind the counter is wearing a pocket protector and a pair of BCG's. He turns as the door chimes and squints thru the glare from the overhead lights reflecting off the almost antiseptic surfaces in the shop. He asks what he can do to help, and when you lay it all out for him, he is more than helpful. He spouts of innocuous information like its nothing, he makes suggestions based on your needs and wants and monetary investment. He approaches the edge of "too helpful" territory as he tells you more than you need to know about the people he talks to in Australia and Alaska, but it's ok because your learning. If nothing else, you get stoked about the whole world that is going to open up. You make a large purchase and take it all home, satisfied with your new hobby.

Which would you prefer? This isn't a rhetorical question - as a newbie in a hobbie, trying to get a grasp, what angle do you want to see into that hobby?

Where is this going? (Updated Wednesday and bumped to top)

I have had an epiphany. Well, that's probably too strong a word for it, but I did have an experience that altered my perception of certain things. The two things that were slightly altered in my view are two things that I have much experience with: liberals and gun shows.

Let me explain.

I used the analogy above with the ham radio operators to illustrate how appearances can be deceiving and how they can alter your perception of certain situations.

For instance, what if I told you that the guy in the tin-foil brigade was actually a well known and respected member of the ham radio community, whereas the other guy with his pocket protector is known as a disreputable outsider within the same community, or at least by the people in that community who should know such things. Would that color your perception of the situation I gave you, as a beginner in the hobby?

Probably not. It doesn't change your first impressions and experiences.

It's the same way for new gun owners and shooters. Sure, I know the guy behind the counter at my favorite shop knows his stuff and I appreciate that personally, but if a new shooter I knew went into that shop without me and was treated badly, they could be completely put off the whole thing.

That is my problem with the current incarnation of gun shows. In San Diego, we only get one show a couple times a year - The Crossroads of the West. I used to go frequently, trying to scout out bargains and get deals on ammo. No more. It has become a flea market for junk traders and other peddlers of paraphanelia that has nothing to do with what I want. I can't go find someone that is going to do a carry treatment package on my 1911, but I can find some goofball selling throwing stars or some douchebag walking around dressed as an SS officer. I'm a shooter and a gun owner, but even some of the retards I see at gun shows is offputting to me, and I sure don't want to hear the guy next to me talking about putting rounds through the "B" on an "FBI" blazer at 200 yards when I'm buying ammo.

So what happens when a new shooter goes to a gun show and gets the wrong idea? When all they hear are the conspiracy theorists and nutjobs hawking do-it-yourself full auto kits? Has anybody else ever stopped to examine the repercussions of what some of these people do to a gun owners image?

Sure, the guy who wants to snipe at FBI agents could be kidding, and it could be someone that everyone in the gun community knows by name or reputation. That doesn't change the perception to a new shooter who would very likely feel uncomfortable in that scenario. The fact of the matter is that they are projecting the image of a gun owner that we continually try to overcome - the "crazy."

I know I'm preaching to the choir here. All of the bloggers I read preach training, safety and responsibility. I very rarely, if ever, see "crazy" pop up in their writing. But I realize this statement may piss some people off and I may be excoriated within this little niche of bloggers I find myself in.

We need to do our damndest to keep the crazy off of the "front lines."

What I mean is - gun shows, gun shops, public ranges - these places need to be more friendly to the beginning shooter. I have a friend who won't go shooting without me because she doesn't like the "vibe" from some other people there - like the guy with the swastika tattoo on his arm. That guy is doing nothing to help the gun community while he's standing there popping off mags of 9mm as fast as he can pull the trigger.

The reason I bring this up now is because I've seen what the image can do. I was in class when a student presented his paper on...guns. "Fucking great," I thought. I couldn't believe I'd have to sit through this bullshit. I knew where it was going.

But I didn't.

He actually seemed to get it. He started out with all kinds of the typical anti-gun rhetoric and anti-republican/conservative/Bush jokes that I would expect to find, but as the paper grew longer, the tones changed. He kept his views vague, but approached the subject matter objectively. He went to a gun show to research the topic and found an assortment of freaks that would have prompted me to leave had I been in his shoes. But he found the one geek at the show that was willng to explain the detailed tech specs of certain things, explain some of the CA laws and restrictions and talk about safety and discipline. That one guy managed to change his perspective, so much so that he bought a rifle before the day was out and enrolled in a safety course.

What did the class think about that outcome, I wondered. This ought to be good. They all agreed. They all expressed an interest in shooting and guns that I never ever ever thought I'd hear in an English upper-divison class in a SoCal university. I was stunned. Literally. The teacher called me to explain what the perplexed look across my face was about and I could only stutter. So what was I to draw from this classroom full of left-leaning students?

The conclusion that I came to is that image matters to the liberals and gun grabbers. It isn't the content - it's the image. Hence the AWB "Scary Looking Weapons Ban" that sunset last year. Hence the .50 ban in CA. Hence half of the "feel good" legislation these idiots keep trying to shove down our necks. And they do it because they're scared of that which they don't know and that which they see as the norm.

By keeping crazy out of sight - and out of mind, hopefully - the image of guns and gunnies can be changed. I do have a good feeling about that. When I "came out" as a shooter in that classroom, no one was shocked or offended. I don't present that image - I'm not a thug or a gangsta or some neo nazi. I look like one of them, but I shoot guns for fun. I present the type of image that they can relate with better than the stereotypical.

I guess what I'm asking is for everyone to be the buffer for new shooters. Introduce them to the world the right way and don't let the "crazy" be their first influence. Don't let some of the kooks get to them first. But you guys all know that already. I think I just needed to write it out to believe that I heard that in my class...