Monday, June 5, 2017

The UK Understanding American Values Project

As I mentioned on the most recent podcast episode, this past weekend I had the honor of  giving a presentation to a delegation of 10 young social media professionals from the UK who were touring America as part of an international exchange program focused on understanding and exploring American culture and values. I was asked to talk to them about what it's like to be both pro-gun and LGBTQ.

I expected a fair amount of pushback about gun ownership, mainly because the UK has very heavy gun control, but also because their only other pro-gun speaker was someone from NRA Headquartes from when they visited Washington, DC, and I think we all know how well the "Because the Second Amendment" argument works. However, they had also met with several anti-gun groups, including Gays Against Guns and Black Lives Matter. Needless to say, I felt that the odds were pretty heavily stacked against me, but it was important that I show the delegates how and why a trans woman can be heavily pro-gun.

I had a last-minute idea to create a visual aid of some common cartridges, so I took the ones that I had (hence why no .45) and taped them to a shoe box lid. It would have been much nicer if I'd thought to make this any time earlier than the night before, but as field-expedient props go I'd say it's not bad. If I end up doing this again, I'm going to take more time to make a much nicer display, including more cartridges.

To answer a few questions:
  • The metric is there because the participants are from the UK. Yes, I know that the British still use inches, but I wanted to make things easy for our guests. 
  • The .22LR is deliberately included twice. Not only because it's both a pistol and rifle round, but to serve as comparison between a .223/5.56 round in case the matter of "high powered rifles" came up. 
  • That's also why the x39 and x54 are there ; the x39 to serve as another example of an intermediate round, and the 54R to represent the typical .30 hunting rifle round.

How'd I do?

To be perfectly honest, this was not my best work, because the format was unusual. It wasn't a presentation where I could give a talk and show slides, with questions afterward, nor was it an interview where someone would ask a question and I'd answer in a back-and-forth. Instead, it was a strange version of the two, where I would be talking and then someone would raise their hand to ask a question, and that threw me off my rhythm for a while. Eventually I figured out that I needed to run it like a role-playing game, with me as the Game Master and the delegates as the participants. Once I figured that out, I started talking in bite-sized chunks, then picking a raised hand. Knowing what I know now, I'll do better next time.

Still, I feel that I didn't do terribly, because I'm fairly sure that while I may not have convinced them of the rightness of my position, I was at least able to get them to understand why I held those beliefs. I feel this is an important first step, because once you understand your opponent's position, you can actually engage in productive dialogue rather than just bludgeoning each other with your respective "Thou Shalts" and "Thou Shalt Nots". Indeed, one fellow of Pakistani origin (his parents were immigrants, but he was born in the UK)  declared that while he hasn't changed his mind about guns in the UK, he'd own and carry a gun if he lived here in America. I'll take that as a win, thanks.

What I found amusing is that, while I probably didn't make more converts, every one of the delegates who made it to the end of my session* jumped at the opportunity to hold and dry-fire my Glock 26 and AR-15.**  Maybe it was the sheer novelty of the situation, but they all appeared to enjoy it, and at least one wished we were at a gun range so they could actually fire the gun. I'll take that as a win, too.

A post shared by Jazza John (@jazzajohn) on
Yes, I know he wrote #AK47. I've no idea why. I left a comment correcting his nomenclature. 

* They were running late, and the woman making the presentation before me was also running late due to having car trouble on her way, so my 3:30 presentation was pushed back to 4:30 and the delegates were exhausted. Sadly, only 5 of them stuck around to hear me speak, and even some of those had to bail before it was finished.
** Yes, yes, before someone breathlessly asks about safety:  the AR had a UTM RBT training bolt inside it that would not fire a live round, and the Glock had a Train Safe Chamber Block. I taught them the Four Rules of Firearm Safety, showed them how to hold, cock and dry-fire each firearm, and then had them aim at the corner of the room before pulling the trigger.

After the presentation, I went out to dinner with two of them. We didn't talk about gun, but we talked about each other; one of the delegates was trans and the other was gay, and so we had some common ground over which to bond. This is important, because one of those people was also one of the three who raised their hands when I asked if me being armed made them nervous. I'm glad that I was able to go from "Armed stranger who makes me nervous" to "Someone I feel safe going to dinner with." I'd say that's another win.

Finally, this is what the event organizer said to me after I thank her for the opportunity to talk to the young people:
Your talk and demonstration was wonderful. The participants really got a lot out of it and I think you opened their minds in new ways. I know you were nervous but you did a great job. I think some of the participants were also nervous in the beginning to be around your guns, but once you all got to know each other everyone seemed to be relaxed and enjoying themselves. Thank you again for driving over and sharing your viewpoints and your time with us. I will definitely let you know if I have any other delegations that would be a good match for your interests. 
So not my best work, but it seems like I did all right. And I'll do a much better job next time.

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