If you spend time reading discussions on social media about gun ownership, you’ll encounter many diverse opinions and styles of debate. These differences can be grouped into a dozen personalities. The personality types aren’t all equally common or equally active in the gun ownership debate. The twelve types don’t include every character that might be encountered in the debate. Even these twelve appear in some places, both on social media and in real life, but not in others.
An individual may manifest a single personality, combine parts of several personalities, or assume different personalities in different discussions. You’ll recognize them when you see them. Personalities won’t cross from pro-gun-rights to pro-gun-control positions, so it doesn’t normally help to yell louder and use stronger language. There are, however, some ways to connect with personalities on the other side of the debate.
Bystanders are people who aren’t actively engaged in the gun debate. They have more pressing concerns in their lives, maybe it’s school or work, family issues, or just hobbies and other pursuits. Guns don’t concern them, at least until they decide to buy a gun or are a victim of gun violence. When they do talk about guns, what they say is even-toned and based on the opinions of people they know. They are harmless, but they are like a sleeping giant because they make up such a large proportion of Americans. When they awake and join the debate, on one side or the other, they will sway the course of gun ownership.
The best way to talk with a bystander is to first listen to their thoughts about guns. Find out what they believe about the gun ownership debate, what they don’t know, and what their concerns are. Correct gross misperceptions but stay casual. They don’t need to know what an assault rifle is or isn’t. They don’t need to be admonished to wake up and get involved. They’ll get there in their own time.
Traditionalists grew up with guns in their homes or communities. They may have received one as a gift when they were young or inherited one from a relative later in life. Their biggest fear is the loss of these traditions. Their opinions are those of the people they know. They believe the Second Amendment gives them the right to own a gun but believe some gun control measures are appropriate to safeguard society. When they talk about guns, what they say is only slightly heated. Their agitation comes from their frustration with society. That frustration goes beyond gun ownership and includes society’s lack of morals and religion, the economy, social programs, younger generations, and of course, the antics of politicians in Washington. They are harmless. They just want to lead their own lives as they see fit.
The best way to talk with a traditionalist is to first listen to their history. How did guns enter their lives? Are guns their biggest concern or are there other issues that are more important? Are they more concerned about guns or are they more concerned about the possible loss of their way of life? As with bystanders, correct gross misperceptions but stay casual. Traditionalists don’t like change but they’ll accept it when they are ready.
Practitioners are the most dedicated of gun users. They are hunters and sportsmen, marksmen who participate in tournaments, and professionals working in the fields of security, law enforcement, and the military. They are very well-trained and are strict adherents to gun-safety practices. Their fear is that the guns that are such a central focus in their lives will be restricted, and even taken away. They believe the Second Amendment gives them the right to own a gun but believe that some gun-control measures are appropriate to safeguard society. They aren’t usually very active in debates. When they do talk about guns, what they say is only slightly heated because of their frustration with society’s gun-control leanings. Their opinions are based on their own first-hand knowledge and experiences. They are mostly harmless, even beneficial to the debate. They just want to lead their own lives as they know how. They are important because they are the people that most Americans think of as legitimate gun users.
The best way to talk with a practitioner is to first listen to their experiences. Find out what brought them to the opinions they hold. Ask them what gun violence they’ve experienced. Ask how they think gun violence might be addressed. Learn from their experience.
Collectors are people who revel in the technology, and sometimes the history, of firearms. They are often accused of building arsenals for nefarious purposes when their true motivation is actually no different from car enthusiasts, gamers, steampunkers, and others who are fascinated by technology. They have the collection-gene in their DNA, only instead of stamps or stuffed animals or antiques, they collect guns. Collectors put considerable effort into planning, expanding, and maintaining their collections. It’s common to see collectors post images of their collections or their latest acquisitions to gun-related social media. One kind of collector may even build their own firearms, ghost guns, using designs and parts obtained online. Collectors believe the Second Amendment gives them the right to own as many of whatever kind of weaponry they want. Their underlying fear is that their collections will be regulated, like homemade cars and airplanes have been. Collectors tend to have extensive knowledge of firearm technology but a less in-depth understanding of policy issues colored by gun-rights advocates. Their rhetoric can be harsh, often charactering gun-control advocates as grabbers. As a class, they are probably mostly harmless although their rhetoric is often worrisome.
The best way to talk with a collector is the same way you might talk to any collector of coins or comic books. Share their enthusiasm. Learn about why they have what they have and what they want and why they want it. Don’t bother asking about their ideas on gun control. It’s not their forte.
Vulcans only want to hear about data and research. They are quick to criticize biased data and analyses from both sides of the gun debate. Opinions are worthless to them. They eschew hearsay and won’t engage in directionless discussions. Their rhetoric is mostly civil unless provoked. They are often heard to say “can you cite your sources?” Vulcans are almost exclusively advocates of gun control and subscribers to the collective-rights interpretation of the Second Amendment. They are harmless but very important to the gun debate because they expose the inadequacy of currently-available data.
The best way to talk with a Vulcan is to have a well-considered argument using convincing analyses from legitimate sources. They want to engage in information-sharing but it has to involve unbiased, and most preferably, new revelations. That’s a high bar to cross because new research is just beginning to appear from the government after the Dickey Amendment was clarified in 2018 and because gun-rights advocates usually don’t argue analytically.
A great many gun owners buy their first gun because they fear for their personal safety. It’s almost always a handgun, which is notable because most gun-related deaths are attributable to handguns. The media has convinced the fearful that guns are the most expedient way to protect themselves against violent crime. They believe they have the right to own a gun because of the individual interpretation of the Second Amendment yet they often favor some gun-control measures, like background checks. After all, they believe they are not the ones causing the Nation’s epidemic of gun violence; that blame belongs to criminals. Too often, the fearful are underprepared for responsible gun ownership, lacking sufficient training in gun safety and marksmanship, and the facilities to protect their weapon from unauthorized use. The fearful are probably the least aware of the intricacies of all the personalities of gun owners. They don’t often engage in debates about gun ownership. They form their opinions from the people they meet at gun stores and from like-minded handgun owners. As a class, the fearful are worrisome because there are so many of them.
The best way to talk with the fearful is to acknowledge the legitimacy of their fear. Discuss how they are prepared to react to threats. Ask if they’ve had training and if they practice their marksmanship. Ask if they carry and store their firearms safely. Don’t get into how rare it is for guns to be used successfully for personal defense. That will only exacerbate their fears.
Everybody wants to be a hero. Herowannabes are gun owners who want to be the acclaimed good guy with a gun that saves the day in a crisis. They want to play the hero-role they grew up watching on TV, in the movies, and in popular culture. They’ll always be able to cite instances of heroic actions taken by private gun owners in response to an active shooter, despite the rarity of these situations. Their defining moment was the 1966 mass-shooting by Charles Whitman, who shot over 40 passersby from the University of Texas observation tower in Austin. Private gun owners who were in the area returned fire and created a legend that was memorialized in song. The underlying fear of herowannabes is that they will be ignored and insignificance, the same fear of some mass shooters. They believe they have the individual right to own a gun under the Second Amendment, and further, are strong advocates of Constitutional (permitless) Carry, particularly open carry. They can be knowledgeable about gun technology and usually practice their marksmanship. They are unshakable in their opinions and their rhetoric in discussions with gun-control advocates can be harsh. They are worrisome because of their provocative nature and unpredictability.
The best way to talk with a herowannabe is carefully. They won’t be dissuaded from their belief that a good guy with a gun is the best response to a bad guy with a gun. Furthermore, they are committed to the fantasy that they are the ones who could save the day in a crisis. No amount of data or research will convince them that their daydream is highly improbable.
Crusaders are gun-control proponents who want to end gun violence by ending gun ownership. Their underlying fear is that gun violence will continue to escalate as long as guns are available in society. They believe that the Second Amendment was written to protect State militias from interference by the Federal government. Furthermore, because State militias as originally defined no longer exist in the same way for the same purpose, they believe that the Second Amendment is no longer relevant and should be repealed. Their main topic of discussion is the Second Amendment and related Court cases as opposed to gun technology or the effectiveness of gun control measures. Their discussion style combines fact with opinion, and is usually expressed in strong terms involving harsh, provocative rhetoric. For that reason, they can be considered worrisome.
The best way to talk with a crusader is to let them take the lead. Find out what their beliefs are. Because so much of the creation and evolution of the Second Amendment happened long ago, it’s always possible to find elements of disagreement that can be explored for mutual enlightenment. You won’t change a crusader’s fundamental beliefs but you may give them new perspectives to consider.
Bullies fear insignificance and being ignored so they yell as loud as they can at anyone that they can. Individuals may become bullies from a dysfunctional home life and ineffective education which lead to low self-esteem, defensiveness, and anger. They may have experienced stressful or traumatic situations or difficult interpersonal relationships. They may have been bullied by others. Bullies don’t often change because the causes for their behavior are so deep-rooted.
Pro-gun bullies aim to antagonize gun-control advocates in any way they can. They don’t want to debate or discuss except as a means to belittle their adversaries. They don’t deal in facts. The gun-ownership topic doesn’t matter—Second Amendment, violence statistics, gun technology, legislation, Court cases, or politics—all are used as vehicles to attack both individuals and groups. Pro-gun bullies usually rely on overt name-calling rather than more subtle techniques. They call gun-control advocates lefties, anti-gunners, grabbers, derps, idiots, Fudds, and the pro-gun equivalent of the n-word, libtards. They are important because they often set the tone of a discussion. An otherwise civil discussion can be irrevocably disrupted by the intrusion of a bully. They are worrisome for that reason.
The best way to deal with a pro-gun bully is to ignore them, their greatest fear. End the discussion. Walk away. On social media, report and block the user.
Just as there are pro-gun bullies, there are no-gun bullies. Their motivations are similar. No-gun bullies exist to belittle and antagonize gun-rights advocates in any way they can. They don’t care to discuss gun-ownership issues except as a means to provoke their adversaries. They have enough facts and sources to lead adversaries into further discussions. They do engage in name-calling, using terms like gun-nut, gun-bunny, brain-damaged, and testosterone-freaks. More commonly, though, they use subtle techniques of innuendo and sarcasm to impugn their opponents. They question education, logic, and information sources. They question gun-owners’ morality, honesty, and concern for innocent lives. They question manhood, drug dependence, and mental health. Like pro-gun bullies, no-gun bullies are important because they can set the tone of a discussion and are worrisome for this reason.
The best way to deal with a no-gun bully is to ignore them. End the discussion and don’t engage with them again.
Freedom fighters truly believe that the reason the Founding Fathers created the Second Amendment was to enable citizens to rebel against their government if it became tyrannical. They believe that when a government’s abuses and usurpations reduce the population to absolute despotism, it is their right and their duty to throw off such governments. It is their declaration. They ignore the fact that these same Founding Fathers were quick to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion and other insurrections even while they were writing the Second Amendment. Moreover, freedom fighters believe they can amass the resources—supporters and weaponry—to take on the government. This makes them extremely dangerous, as was proven on January 6, 2021. Freedom fighters are very active in debates over gun ownership. Their rhetoric is the most extreme of any personality in the gun debate, even more so than bullies.
There is no best way to talk with a freedom fighter. Nothing could be accomplished from such discussions.
Perpetrators are the gun owners who are the sources of the gun violence in America. They are by definition, criminals. Some are convicted felons and some not. Some are mentally ill. Their underlying fear is not being in control of their lives, the same root fear we all share. They don’t know much about gun technology. They don’t care about the Second Amendment and gun-control policies. They don’t engage in discussions about guns. What they do with the weapons they obtain is their speech. They are the cause of the danger of gun violence.
Talking to perpetrators is best left to law enforcement and healthcare professionals.
Images obtained from Generated Photos.