In the aftermatH of Charleston, as we all wring our hands over gun laws or the lack thereof, I’ve been watching a series of videos by a guy named Colion Noir.
He’s a young black gun enthusiast — real name, Collins Idehen — and a star of “NRA Freestyle,” an Internet lifestyle channel that aims to make guns hip beyond the white, male, rural set. He has 48,000 Twitter followers and nearly 300,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel, where he talks about guns as fashion accessories, celebrates the glories of the Glock 43, and posts little rants, scored to hip-hop beats, about politics and Second Amendment rights.
And he’s worth listening to — because he gives a weird, compelling, absolutist voice to the cultural themes that make the NRA such an immutable force.
Noir taps into broader right-wing messages about the fear of government encroachment. And he hits on a related, relatively new idea: The government is incapable of protecting us, so the gun owner is freedom’s last frontier. In 1999, an ABC News/Washington Post poll of gun owners found that 49 percent owned their guns for hunting, and 26 percent for personal protection. In 2013, a Pew Research Center poll found that the numbers had practically flipped: 32 percent hunting, 48 percent protection.
Here’s where all of Noir’s themes come together: The cool kid who used a pointed finger to fight make-believe bad guys grows up to be the even cooler hero, using his formidable firepower to defend everyone’s rights. In a recent post about Charleston, Noir gripes about how much the media focus on sociopathic mass shooters — a valid complaint — and says we should be celebrating the concealed-carry permit holders who are prepared, at any moment, to stop them.
“What kind of backward society do we live in,” he says, “where we glorify the sociopath and then demonize the good people who want adequate means of defending themselves from said sociopaths?”
This speaks to a national cultural divide that has tracked the increase in mass shootings since Columbine: Is the solution fewer guns, or more of them? To both sides, the answer is self-evident. And both sides think the other side is nuts.
In Noir’s video, there’s nobody to challenge him, to point out that the people who stopped Jared Lee Loughner in Tucson in 2011 didn’t use guns; they jumped on him when he paused to reload. (One man nearby had a gun, but never got a chance to take it out.)
There’s also no one to remind Noir of the tragedies of concealed carry, like the woman who was killed in an Idaho Walmart last December when her two-year-old son accidentally discharged the gun in her purse.
But these fights aren’t going to be won on anecdotes or logic or statistics. It’s a world of hypotheticals; one person’s protected fortress is another person’s accident waiting to happen.
If there’s a lesson here for gun control supporters, it’s in how to approach a political fight. Demonizing gun owners or guns is only going to make the other side dig in, says Matt Grossman, a political science professor at Michigan State University who has studied the NRA’s effectiveness.
If there’s small hope for common ground, it’s by focusing, as Grossman suggests, on specific ideas instead of broad bans. That 2013 Pew survey offers one possibility: 79 percent of gun owners favor background checks on private gun sales. Colion Noir doesn’t buy it — that’s not his shtick — but somebody might. If you’re one of the heroes, you don’t want one of the bad guys on your team.