What is a Massachusetts gun owner really like?

By Michael Ball

Flickr/Robert Nelson

Gun rights activists, and in Massachusetts even gun owners, bear an unfortunate and negative stigma that often leads to the dismissal of their views and experiences of having any value. When one mentions they are pro-gun, believe in the Second Amendment, or own guns in the Northeast, they are often classified negatively as a “gun-nut.” These “gun-nuts” are assumed to be camouflage wearing, right -wing, anti-government racists. On Jan. 19 at least 1,000 of these “gun-nuts,” congregated in front of the State House to stand up for their rights and beliefs. In doing so, they proved that the stereotype as is perpetuated by the media could not be farther from the truth.

The terrible tragedy that took place in Connecticut on Dec. 14, 2012, renewed the call for a discussion on gun control, mental health and violence throughout American culture. What was hopefully going to be a thoughtful discussion quickly turned to a full out assault on gun owners and the Second Amendment. Within a month the president had issued what were claimed to be 23 executive orders and called for a renewed push in Congress for a ban on arbitrarily defined guns, and an arbitrarily decided magazine capacity limit. What makes an “assault weapon” is a complete fabrication of the political machine, which is easily demonstrated on the changing definition between the original law from 1994 and the bill as it has been reintroduced today by Senator Diane Feinstein.

The United States had an assault weapons and magazine ban from 1994-2004, and a Department of Justice study after the ban explained it was impossible to conclude that the ban had any effect on the use of such weapons by criminals, because the changes were so minute that they could have been attributable to many other factors.

Prior to, during, and after the ban crime has dropped and continues to drop to the lowest it has been in decades today. Not to be outdone, the politically ambitious Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York forced through legislation in under a day to require the registration of certain firearms, in addition to the turning in of magazines which hold more than ten rounds.  The legislation additionally set a new limit of seven rounds, all the while bypassing the states’ own standard minimum lengths of legislative review.

Within a day of this, Governor Deval Patrick had filed legislation which, in his own words, was following what New York had done. I know this because he said it to me when I called in on a radio show.

This prompt action targeting gun owners led to a large amount of grassroots support mostly organized through social media to stand at our Statehouse in Boston on Jan. 19. With only a few days to truly gain momentum, Massachusetts had a crowd which overflowed from the front of the statehouse across the street and into the Common.

The turnout for this event was truly fantastic and unexpected. According to estimates from the Boston Globe, there was more than three times the turnout for the pro-gun rally, than the better organized anti-gun rally, with 700 to  200 individuals respectively, which was held the following weekend. I would personally estimate the numbers at the gun rights rally to have topped 1,000. Unfortunately, despite multiple media agencies showing up, minimal coverage was received. This likely was because nobody was behaving in any manner likely to gain the negative attention of a system all too bent on vilifying gun owners. The national coverage of these events included pictures predominately from states in which people were openly carrying firearms of various sorts as the media infatuation with “scary looking guns” was out in full force. The same day a total of five injuries unrelated to the protests due to accidents with firearms in the United States made CNNs top story over the tens if not hundreds of thousands out in peaceful protest. The majority of these peaceful protestors were armed, even in Boston and there were zero incidents. It is important to note that accidental gun fatalities usually number about 500 annually, compared to approximately 33,000 accidental poisonings, 34,000 motor vehicle deaths, and 26,000 deaths due to falls.

Don’t let facts serve as a distraction to mainstream media reporting, however.

The makeup of the crowd in Boston undeniably included many younger to middle aged white males, though many ethnicities were certainly represented. There was a fair share of entire families’ present as well as individual women, some of whom were instrumental in getting the word out about the rally. Indeed the first and inarguably most moving speaker was a survivor of the Tiananmen Square massacre who had just recently received his citizenship as well as his ‘License to Carry.”

He spoke of the similarities of the rights Chinese are supposed to have compared to those of Americans in Article II of the Chinese constitution and the American Bill of Rights respectively, and how they are a joke as the citizens of China have no means to defend those rights, which include the freedoms of speech, assembly and religious practice.

He called into question what would have been an acceptable amount of bullets to limit the millions of Chinese in Beijing that day had they been allowed rifles when they came under fire of the Chinese military. This is not to say the theme of the rally was to inspire fear of government, or fight tyranny; that was far from the case. There certainly were those making the point that it is important to have a balance of physical power between any given population and their governing body. That thought is certainly present in the minds of most who support and understand the Second Amendment., but this was not central to the purpose of the demonstration in Boston.

When organizing this rally it was hoped that not only would some valid points be brought up when it comes to who gun laws ultimately affect, but that it would be demonstrated that gun owners are friends, neighbors and coworkers among Massachusetts communities. The grassroots and social media organization of this demonstration meant that everyone could assist in its organization, and that the key points would come to light in a somewhat democratic manner. This certainly was achieved, with many a sign listing who people were in addition to their status as a gun owner. The most prominent example of this was a woman who held a sign that read: “Mother, Lawyer, Democrat, Second Amendment Defender. (10)  This rally did not comprise individuals belonging to just one political party, race, gender or mindset. Many brought up the practical points that presented the case for private gun ownership and the defense of home and family, such as police response times, and the amount of bullets a good citizen should be able to possess when faced with a threat. Career law enforcement officers who were among the crowd spoke further on those issues, offering their support based on their experiences with licensed gun owners when compared to violent criminals. Good points were made and it was certainly refreshing to be among various Massachusetts residents willing to stand up for what is being demonized more and more in this state.

Through talking to various people in attendance, it was clear that these were fellow residents of Massachusetts. The attitude when it came to guns was that government must stop punishing the law- abiding gun owners who follow all the rules, and focus on fixing the problems we undoubtedly have with violence and crime. Just because the crowd was made up of gun owners, doesn’t mean they didn’t support their definition of common sense gun laws, such as locking those up who are violent or steal guns, or trafficking guns or in any way facilitate firearm possession by criminals. Most were also in favor of a comprehensive background check system, though they strongly opposed long-term registration of individual guns. Items, which were absolutely unacceptable to the crowd, included measures that only serve to hurt the law abiding, or those that would serve as a stepping stone to further restrictive regulation. Most notably is the example of what New York now has in place, where one may own grandfathered ten round magazines, but are instantly a criminal if they load more than seven individual bullets into that ten round magazine. There is no reasonable explanation for how this law would do anything but harm someone’s ability to defend themselves and their family. These were the points the lawyers and law enforcement among the crowd agreed upon.

Ultimately, despite the lack of media attention, the rally succeeded in painting gun owners of Massachusetts in a good light that accurately portrays them as the pro-rights community members they are. Massachusetts gun owners are friends of the community, peoples’ neighbors, family, bosses, employees and co-workers. Gun owners, but more importantly hundreds of thousands of Massachusetts community members do want to be involved in a discussion about what can actually be done about the problems with violence in this state and country.  People of various backgrounds and experiences came together to defend everyone’s rights, and make a public offer to sit down and work with a legislature which, since Deval Patrick has taken office, has refused the requests of Massachusetts gun rights organizations to be involved. Hopefully this outpouring of support from gun owners will lead to a conversation which will work to fix problems with both crime and how gun owners are respected in the Commonwealth. However, in order for that to happen, the Governor and his office must actually have the discussion that they said they were willing to have, rather than continuing to lie about their intentions and entertain only the ideas of the anti-gun organizations which run purely off emotion.

Michael Ball is a Collegian contributor. He can be reached at [email protected]