Friday, September 12, 2008

The Psychology of Anti-gunners...

Interesting peak into the heads of the people on the other side of the Great Divide...and, indeed, it's a nasty rat's nest of seething repressed violence and unacknowledged victimhood. There's also an interesting take on communication with antigun people:
Communicating with anti-gun people

How can you communicate more effectively with an anti-gun person who is using unhealthy defense mechanisms? There are no quick and easy answers. But there are a few things you should keep in mind.

Anger and attacks do not work

Most gun owners, when confronted by an anti-gun person, become angry and hostile. This is understandable, because gun owners increasingly face ridicule, persecution and discrimination. (If you don't believe this, ask yourself if anyone would seriously introduce legislation to ban African- Americans, women, or Jews from post offices, schools, and churches. Even convicted felons aren't banned from such places - but peaceful armed citizens are!) But an angry response is counterproductive.

It's not helpful to attack the person you're trying to persuade. Anything that makes him feel more fearful or angry will only intensify his defenses. Your goal is to help the person feel safe, and then to provide experiences and information that will help him to make informed decisions.

Be Gentle

You should never try to break down a defense mechanism by force. Remember that defense mechanisms protect people from feelings they cannot handle, and if you take that protection away, you can cause serious psychological harm. And because defense mechanisms operate unconsciously, it won't do any good to show an anti-gun person this article or to point out that he's using defense mechanisms. Your goal is gently and gradually to help the person to have a more realistic and rational view of the world. This cannot be done in one hour or one day.

As you reach out to people in this way, you need to deal with both the illogical thought processes involved and the emotional reactions that anti-gun people have to firearms. When dealing with illogical thought processes, you are attempting to use reason and logic to convince the anti-gun person that his perception of other people and his perception of firearms are seriously inaccurate. The goal is to help him to understand that armed citizens and firearms are not threats, and may even save his life.

Reversing Irrational thoughts

The Mirror Technique

One approach that can be helpful is simply to feed back what the anti-gun person is telling you, in a neutral, inquisitive way. So, when replying to my anonymous e-mail correspondent (above), I might respond, "So you fear if your neighbors had guns, they would use them to murder you. What makes you think that?" When you simply repeat what the person has said, and ask questions, you are not directly challenging his defenses. You are holding up a mirror to let him see his own views. If he has very strong defenses, he can continue to insist that his neighbors want to murder him. However, if his defenses are less rigid, he may start to question his position.

Another example might be, "Why do you think that your children's schoolteachers would shoot them?" You might follow this up with something like, "Why do you entrust your precious children to someone you believe would murder them?" Again, you are merely asking questions, and not directly attacking the person or his defenses.

Of course the anti-gun person might continue to insist that the teachers really would harm children, but prohibiting them from owning guns would prevent it. So you might ask how using a gun to murder innocent children is different from stabbing children with scissors, assaulting them with baseball bats, or poisoning the milk and cookies.

It's important to ask "open-ended" questions that require a response other than "yes" or "no". Such questions require the anti-gun person actually to think about what he is saying. This will help him to re-examine his beliefs. It may also encourage him to ask you questions about firearms use and ownership.

The "What Would You Do?" Technique

Once you have a dialogue going with an anti-gun person, you might want to insert him into a hypothetical scenario, although doing so is a greater threat to his defenses, and is therefore more risky. You might ask how he would deal with a difficult or annoying co-worker. He will likely respond that he would never resort to violence, but "other people" would, especially if they had guns. (Projection again.) You can then ask him who these "other people" are, why they would shoot a co-worker, and what the shooter would gain by doing so.

Don't try to "win" the argument. Don't try to embarrass the person you're trying to educate. Remember that no one likes to admit that his deeply held beliefs are wrong. No one likes to hear "I told you so!" Be patient and gentle. If you are arrogant, condescending, hurtful or rude to the anti-gun person, you will only convince him that gun owners are arrogant, hurtful people - who should not be trusted with guns!
There's the whole thing...yes, there will be a test!


Anonymous said...

It's peek ... but living among the peaks I can only envy the slip. Great article great advice great to know. I will read it all, we all should.Looks like we gunners may have been going at converting the antis wrong, but then how many of us are shrinks? the mushroom

Anonymous said...

Yes, but what about the argument that someone ELSE will get the gun and use it on the children, and if the teacher hadn't had it in the first place, the gun wouldn't have been there?

That one's tough to mirror...and it's the message that others will use to argue.

Anonymous said...

You bring up some serious points. In this day, pro gun people need to realize that anti gunners are experts at using emotional tricks. They use these to gather public support, and use it against us to make us look like fools. That's how they keep winning. It's very important not to allow oneself to be baited. Cause once they get you, you're through.

Jerry The Geek said...

I work in Academia, and trying to convince anybody of anything against their preconception by the refutation of logical fallacy is an exercise in futility. And this is what I most often encounter.

Case in point: a colleague and I were talking about a recent visit to a shooting range. Another colleague stopped by and listened for a few moments, then interjected:
"I have never had any use for a gun."
(The logical extension of this is:
"I am a Good Person. Therefore, Good People are those who do not have any use for a gun.")

The 'logical fallacy' is obvious.

Instead of attempting to draw him into a discussion ... or more likely, a confrontation ... I simply replied:

"That's okay. It's a big world, with plenty of room for people who have a use for a gun as well as those who do not."

The interrupter was included in the conversation, and the choice to continue the tantalizing new vein of discussion was his. He chose to remain quiet, so the rest of us continued with the original topic.

The result of this non-confrontation was that the non-shooter was included, but neither castigated nor convinced.

However, he can only have left with the impression that people who 'have a use for a gun' are not rabidly defensive right-wing gun-nuts. (Okay, so we only eliminated the "rabidly defensive" part -- that's all we needed to do.)

As the cited article points out, the purpose of dialogue is not to challenge deep-seated emotional convictions by the use of reason and logic ... that won't work.

I think the article misses the vital first step.

You cannot successfully engage an anti-gun person in a meaningful discussion as long as it begins as a confrontation. You have to establish a non-threatening climate.

If he chooses to continue the discussion, then you can begin to challenge his thoughts about guns and the people who 'have a use for' them. He may not choose to continue. But at least he can come away with the impression of yourself as a reasonable person.

That may seem live a very small baby-step, and it may seem unrewarding.

However, it does serve to lower his sense of threat caused (here) by working with people who don't agree with his "non-violent = non-gun" philosophy.

Who knows? He may begin to consider 'some' gun-nuts among his list of "Good People".

At least, you haven't reinforced his irrational preconceptions.

Anonymous said...

Jerry the geek-well said and the example was well played! the mushroom

Anonymous said...

Sarah Thompson was a dedicated and thoughtful voice of reason during the political and media debates on Utah's CCW legislation, which created something of a de facto national permit. Kudos to her for this latest article. Good to see she's still in the fight!