Judging Gun Owners

by Keith Coniglio

As I opined in an earlier piece, there is no such thing as "the gun owner." We're a varied lot with differing opinions, motivations, and attitudes towards guns and our Second Amendment. But we have one unifying quality, often overlooked by many: we are hated or misunderstood by a significant number of our fellow citizens.

Read any comments section of online stories about defensive shootings, negligent discharges, tragic accidents, or even hunters being mauled by animals, and you'll see the worst and most obvious outpouring of vitriol. There are subtler prejudices, too, where even the most politically correct people think nothing of using the phrase "gun nut," and assumptions are made about a person's values and "threat level" merely because they choose to exercise a Constitutional right.

For many Americans, guns are reviled — and so are we, those who would keep and bear them.

Some years ago, I was working on a writing project while holding down a full-time job. Not wanting to use my new employer's computer for personal work, I carried my own laptop with me on a daily basis so that I could be productive during breaks and lunch hours. After a few weeks, my manager approached me and asked if I'd mind showing him what was in the laptop bag. He admitted that, because I was known to be "a gun guy," my habit of keeping it constantly close at hand seemed suspicious.

This past summer, our eleven-year-old daughter found it odd that her longtime neighborhood playmate would have play dates in the park but would never come to the house anymore. Her mother eventually confessed that she had seen some of my wife's Facebook posts, decrying the media's demonization of guns with every criminal or terrorist act. She assumed this to mean —correctly — that we had firearms in our house. She "didn't feel comfortable having her children around guns," despite having been comfortable in our home and company many times over the years.

Last week, my local outdoor range — built in the 1940s — was nearly shut down because of a complaint from a homeowner living a mile away. This man, who purchased his home only a few years ago, had already made it clear that he didn't like guns and certainly didn't like a nearby range. When he heard someone open fire ten minutes before our posted hours of operation, he filed complaints with every county agency he could call.

A code enforcement agent, equally disapproving of firearms, contacted our club's Board with the notice that he could do nothing about noise ordinances but could do something about building codes. He then spent days reviewing satellite imagery, and found that a ten-by-twelve mower shed had been built without a permit. If not for the actions of other county authorities allowing us to simply dismantle the shed, this "expanded use" would have nullified our grandfathered status, leaving the club the choice of permanently shutting down the range or complying with current, prohibitive gun range codes — at the cost of millions of dollars the club did not have.

The owner of a brick-and-mortar store in my area had once asked me for advice on the best handgun for deep concealment because he absolutely could not run the risk of printing. I joked that he owned the place — what did he care if he printed? He confessed that comments from long-time customers made it clear that he would lose considerable business if word got out that he was "a gun nut." There would be no fuss, no legally-actionable broken contracts. They'd just stop coming in and would spread the word.

In each case, the situation was as legal as it was offensive and irrational.

This isn't meant to inspire alarm, outrage, shame or secrecy, but it is meant to make you expand the scope of your situational awareness to threats beyond physical violence. Online or in the real world, hatred or misunderstanding of gun owners is one of the few socially and legally acceptable acts of bigotry, and we need to understand that there may be consequences to publicly advertising our stance.

Simple things like displaying our firearms knowledge, sporting "tactical" logos on our clothing or property, or even sharing pro-gun sentiments on social media may reach an audience that won't always be friendly, and may invite a response — direct or indirect — that can impact everything from our social interactions to our livelihood.

Is it right? No, of course not. Bigotry never is. Is it real? You'd better believe it.

Keith Coniglio is a father, software tester, NRA-certified pistol instructor, and devoted Second Amendment advocate. He is also the editor-in-chief of Descendants of Liberty Press, a site dedicated to rekindling Americans' passion for - and defense of - their Constitutional rights and personal liberty.