That is not a typo there in the title of this piece. I don’t mean grasp, I mean gasp. Listen.
I recently attended a town hall held by my newly elected member of Congress, Dean Phillips. It was pretty nice getting to go to a town hall held by my representative in Washington, because the previous representative, displaced last election by Representative Phillips, went for years and years without having any actual town halls. He’d have an occasional fake town hall we’d hear about after the fact, but no actual town halls. Phillips is holding town halls on a regular basis.
Many topics were covered during the event, including guns, and Phillips gave an OK response to an early question on the issue. He runs politically in the middle of the road but definitely in favor of more regulation, which is probably good for the district where a significant number of citizens hunt, and we have not suffered any local mass killings of children. (Though this district does include a school suicide hot spot.)
But then something happened at the end of the town hall. The last questioner said something shocking. He told Representative Phillips and the audience that he had researched which kind of weapon would do best to kill “his deer.” (“His deer” or more us ally “my deer” might be a Minnesota expression referring to the deer you expect to get during hunting season.) He had determined that what he called an “AK-47” rifle, his AK, was the best weapon with which to kill a deer. It was the most effective at killing, and thus, best for the deer. For this reason, we should not really be regulating guns like people want us to.
The audience sat and listened, then waited for Representative Phillips to say something, and he did. He said something assuaging the person who asked the question, and I think Phillips and most of the audience were quietly embarrassed by this hunter’s remarks. Most people just glanced away and were glad to have this not develop into a fight. That, by the way, is a key component of the widely known “Minnesota nice.” No matter how bone-headed a remark or behavior made in public might be, just let it go. Not worth it. Give it a stern look and move on.
Now, before I tell you why the hunter was wrong, the audience was wrong, and Representative Phillips was wrong, in what they all said and did and did not do an did not say, a brief digression. This is advice I’ve since passed on to a few different elected officials, and now I’m giving it to you.
Always have a last question of your own, in case the actual last question is a real bummer like this one was. Don’t have a person ready with an ideal last question that you turn to at the end. That is smarmy and dishonest. But much less smarmy and reasonably less dishonest is to have a question in your head. A question someone once asked you, that you have a kick-ass excellent answer to, the kind of answer you want your public appearance to end on.
Then, if the last question you actually get at the actual event is a great one, and you don’t blow the answer, you are good. Be done. But if that last question is like this guy’s question, so that the public event will end with a squirm and a whimper instead of an inspiring exposition and a tear in the eye, pull out your emergency question. “Thanks for that. By the way, something someone said earlier reminded me of a question I got the other day, but no one touched on here. It is about kittens and how much I love them, and how I saved some baby bunnies from a snake the other day…” or whatever.
Anyway, yes, the deer hunter was wrong because he made the case that a tactical rifle, sometimes called an “assault weapon,” was the best way to kill a deer. This is not true. Tactical rifles trade off effectiveness of accurate killing of a large mammal at a modest distance for lightness, shortness, ability to point around and blast scary things that are near you as you prance through a dangerous situation wearing armor going “hut hut hut” like this:
Meanwhile, to kill a deer, you use the following elements.
1) You hide in a tree overlooking a place deer are expected.
2) The deer pass into the zone of expectation, walking slowly, frequently stopping to browse or listen and smell the surrounding environment.
3) You point a large, long barreled, highly accurate, high caliber rifle with good sights at the deer and when ready pull the trigger.
Like this (fear not, no deer are harmed in this video):
The guy at the Town Hall was wrong.
The audience was wrong. Why? Because — wait for it — no one gasped. Well, I did, and I got a stern look or two, but nobody else did. What should have happened is that everyone should have done that thing they do in the British Parliament. Like this:
Or words to that effect.
What should Representative Phillips have done? I’m not sure. I wanted him to walk up to the guy and slap him, but that is exactly the opposite of what the mild mannered and friendly Phillips would ever do.
Maybe he could have sung a song, like this:
Ok, that was all very fun but I do want to get very serious for a moment. I have a specific suggestion I’d like to give my fellow Town Hall goers and activists interested in gun violence.
Go get hypnotized. Get a post-hypnotic suggestion that has the following effect. Next time you are in a public space and someone takes the floor and belittles any project or suggestion to reduce gun violence by limiting access to tactical assault weapons, high capacity magazines, or similar, or to reduce suicide and accidental discharge of weapons in homes by requiring that guns be firmly secured, or anything along those lines, you will suddenly believe that you are in a room where the entire audience is made up of the loved ones and survivors of Sandy Hook massacre, the Red Lake massacre, the Virginia Tech massacre, the Fort Hood massacre, the Aurora theater massacre, the Columbine massacre, the Parkland massacre, and all the other massacres.
You would imagine, through this post hypnotic suggestion, that there are thousands of people in the room with you, all of whom had lost a child, a parent, a sibling, a student, a teacher, a co-worker, a neighbor, or some other loved one or close acquaintance, to a shooter who would never have been a shooter if this country had an entirely different gun culture and entirely different gun laws.
Imagine the person making the case about his choice of deer hunting weapon in a room full of those people.
And in the balconies, the vast balconies that surround this room that has now come indelibly into your head, are the loved ones of the gun suicide victims, which accumulate at the rate of thousands of years, and the victims of accidental shootings, which happen at about the rate of one a day, and the victims of crimes carried out with guns, which are frequent only in societies where there is a strong and vibrant gun culture like the US. There are millions and millions of people in these balconies that extend far beyond your ability to see.
And that person, who is comparing his deer hunting needs to the sorrow of all those millions, is in front of the room making his case.
Imagine this unthinking hunter explaining how it is important to him to have his choice of hunting rifle, even if that meant decreased lack of safety for others.
No, let me try that again. Imagine this asshole yammering on and on about how he needs a fucking assault rifle to get “his deer” even if that means that we continue to live in a society in which babies and college students and everyone in between are occasionally gunned down in a massacre, and tens of thousands of others die annually through gun violence, including suicide, in order to allow let that piece of shit have is goddamn toy.
Yeah, like that. Imagine it that way. I want all of you, in the actual audience when the actual deer hunter stands up to make his case, to imagine being in that room full of those people.
Because, you know what? They are in that room with you, in spirit. They need you to assume you are with them, watching, listening, waiting, for you do do the right thing. And the right thing is not a stern look, or to look away, or to sit quietly.
The right thing to do is to gasp, then take a breath, then let it out. Shout that person down. End that conversation. Make that conversation highly unlikely to happen again in that room with those people. This is not a matter of respecting someone’s voice. It is a matter of insisting that a misguided believe that a the needs of a hobby are equal to the lives of thousands and thousands of victims of our out of control gun culture.