In the ongoing battle on how to solve gun violence, I learned further aggression isn't the answer.
When the photographers surrounded me, I knew I’d made a mistake. I looked back at the disheveled man I’d approached to see him haul back a stack of newspapers, ready to hit me with them. My debut as a peaceful activist wasn’t going well.
To backtrack a little, I’d decided to attend a rally against gun violence. A march across the Brooklyn Bridge was planned on the 18-month anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting. It was headed by “Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America,” who had teamed up with “Mayors Against Illegal Guns” and “Everytown for Gun Safety.”
I’ve been writing about gun violence for a while now. Specifically I’d been focusing on the gun lobbies and gun rights extremists exacerbating the issue. Yet I hadn’t really written about those who opposed gun advocates, and felt I should get a first hand look at what they were all about.
For such a large demonstration, it was remarkably lacking in aggression. The meeting point was Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn, and well over a thousand people milled about. A percussion band played and people laughed and danced. There was no anger, considering the gravity of the issue of gun violence. As activists go, they were open and approachable.
During the march across the bridge, the activists chanted “Not One More,” the rallying cry of Richard Martinez, who lost his son in UCSB’s recent shooting tragedy. The mood was somber but upbeat. New Yorkers are normally visibly (and especially audibly) annoyed by protest marches gumming up traffic, but not today. There were plenty of smiles and shouts of support.
Except for one. My first thought was he was a homeless man, dressed as he was in filthy clothes. He was a big guy, taller than me, with an unkempt beard, badly fitting rumpled clothing, and he absolutely reeked of body odor. He was leaning his face into the procession and screaming obscenities.
“You fucking bitches! Support the Second Amendment! You cunts won’t get my guns!”
I didn’t even realize I was going to get in his face until I did. I gave him a smile and suggested maybe he go home and take a shower. He continued screaming obscenities and then hauled back his stack of newspapers to hit me with them. The photographers were all over it. My heart sank as I realized this is just what they were waiting for.
Never did catch the activist’s name, but the next thing I knew, a petite young lady in a Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America T-shirt had slipped her arm around mine, casually leading me away from the guy.
“Hi, how are you? We’re really glad you came along, but we ask that you don’t engage with people like that. They’re just crazy.”
Embarrassed, I muttered an apology and something along the lines of how I should know better. She gave me a bright smile, told me that was alright, and melted away. I spent the next few minutes with my head down. Nobody reacted or even seemed to notice my gaffe.
That’s how these activists roll. They’re not interested in fighting. They don’t engage the screaming and angry gun rights extremists. When gun nut pages send waves of trolls to harass them online, they simply hit “block.” They know there’s no point. People like Stinky McLoudmouth aren’t going to discuss a damn thing. So they just step over them.
Once we arrived at City Hall, the speakers began to tell their stories. Lucia McBath spoke of her son, Jordan, shot dead because somebody thought his music was too loud and then said they were “standing their ground.” Dawn Hochspring, murdered principal of Sandy Hook, was memorialized by her daughter, Erica Lafferty.
Antonius Wiriadjaja was randomly shot in Brooklyn. His life was saved in part by a stranger named John, himself a prior shooting victim, who knew what to do. Antonius went on to make a full recovery from his near-fatal gunshot wound thanks to John’s decisive action at the time. Before Antonius could introduce the man who saved his life to his family, John was shot dead while visiting South Carolina.
These are the people guns rights activists call “bullies.” Gun advocates slander them and pretend to be them with fake social media profiles so they can attribute false quotes to them. They receive threats of rape and death every day. Still, they carry on.
Open Carry zealots can swagger around their local Home Depot with loaded AR-15s all they like. They aren’t even close to as brave as the mother of a murdered child refusing to be intimidated by the gun lobbies. It takes more guts to ignore an opponent screaming hateful vitriol at you while calmly delivering your message.
Those opposing activists against gun violence want a fight. That’s why they act like they do. They goad, they threaten, they mock, and they insult. If they can drag the conversation into the mud pit, they’ll win. That’s what they want and what they’re good at.
I saw a meme once suggesting that to oppose the gun lobbies you had to become a monster, a combination of a rhino and a Great White Shark. I took that image to heart, and entered the fray with a snarl. But Moms Demand, amongst other activists against gun violence, showed me that heart was more important than aggression. The issue of gun violence is essentially all about aggression. In this case, you can’t fight fire with fire, you’ll just get an inferno.
But neither does this mean you back down. Resolve is not weakness. Recognizing opponents who are only there to fight is not stupidity. Refusing to engage with the bullies and the boorish is not cowardice when nothing can be gained. So don’t waste your time.
The true tools of the peaceful activist are a calm voice speaking, not the shrieking of the zealot. Reason, resolve, and rationality will go further than the carousel of gun lobby talking points. After all, why go in circles when you have a long walk ahead of you?
I had come to the Brooklyn Bridge March to learn more about those directly affected by gun violence. They taught me much more than their experiences, they showed me the way to the solution of one of this nation’s terrible problems.
I can’t thank them enough.