January 24, 2012
There was rumor going around the SHOT Show this year that the Pink Pistols, a gay 2nd Amendment group, would have a stand. That proved not to be the case, so far as I could tell, but it did raise a question.
What do gay rights and gun rights have in common? More than you might think, I would say.
Gay activists and gun activists have, in a similar time frame, both piled up a long list of notable legal and political victories.
We won the Heller v. D.C. (2008) case before the Supreme Court, striking down the District of Columbia handgun ban. Similarly, the high court struck down laws against consensual sodomy in Lawrence v. Texas (2003).
Every state but Illinois now has some level of legal concealed carry, and concealed carry rights are continually being expanded. The list of states that recognize gay marriage or civil unions continues to grow, and no realist can deny that ultimately, the whole country will have them. Homosexuals can now serve openly in the armed services, and in most places can adopt children.
Whether all that's good or bad you can argue deep into the night, but you can't fail to notice that gun rights and gay rights have burgeoned at the same time. And that's not an accident, though I am confident it has been a big surprise to many.
To use a pompous academic term, homosexuality and gun ownership were both until recently "transgressive" personal choices that challenged established social norms. Being gay may have been more transgressive in Yazoo City, Miss. and owning a gun more so in Cambridge, Mass., but both were on the fringes 50 years ago.
Social norms, whether about race, marriage, sexuality, childrearing, dress, language or workplace relations, have been demolished since those days, and that demolition has been regarded as a great thing by those of progressive mindset.
What they failed to appreciate was that social norms are of a piece, and if you demolish them in the area of personal sexuality, you're tearing them down just as much when it comes to personal defense. You can't let some people off the chain and keep others chained.
If you say that gays have the right to seek personal fulfillment, you can't then say that gun owners have no such right. Personal possibilities can't be expanded in just one direction; they spread out unpredictably, like paint surging out of a spilled can.
Somewhere along the line, gun owners decided to get loud and proud. I can promise you, having worked there for 20 years, that idea didn't come from the NRA. It also didn't come from the gun industry, which until very recently, didn't really want black guns at the SHOT Show.
Gun owners got loud and proud quite on their own, one bumper sticker or T-shirt or viral video at a time, and they may have learned how, at least in part, from guys cavorting on parade floats, dressed like the Village People.
Just as there are flamboyant gay icons like Elton John or the ice skater Johnny Weir, we have our own outrageous figures like Ted Nugent or Toby Keith. A society that tolerates the one has to tolerate the other. We worry a lot about political correctness, but the truth of the matter is that popular culture has probably never been more wide-open, at both extremes of the political spectrum.
TV fare like Modern Family features homosexual characters, portrayed in a positive light, while cable TV is full of gun-related shows like Sons of Guns or Top Shot. Were either of them imaginable in the 1960s, or even the 1980s?
So I would argue that the general expansion of personal possibilities has expanded possibilities for us, too. And that's a good, thing, no matter how you may feel about Liza Minelli. It may not be easy to see or accept, but there's a straight line connecting the guy in the assless chaps to you in your "Infidel" T-shirt. Both of you drive some people nuts, and both of you are freer to be who you want to be than ever before.