TL;DR summary: In view of mistakes made in this video, a reminder to all that when advocating for Students for Concealed Carry and campus carry, be professional and polite at all times. For 1900+ words more on the subject, read on.
With our annual empty holster protest about to commence, it is a good time to discuss best practices on being a good advocate.
When advocating for Students for Concealed Carry (or really any group / cause), there are certain best practices to be aware of. Certainly, different venues and different audiences call for different strategies and methods. When talking to supporters / preaching to the choir, we can take certain baseline assumptions of knowledge and opinion for granted. However, in more general audiences it is important to remember that not everyone is a supporter of either firearms rights generally or Students for Concealed Carry’s mission in particular. Some people are neutral, some people are opposed, and some people are hostile.
Our objective is not only to persuade in the moment, but to leave an overall good impression of ourselves as people and our cause. It therefore pays in the long term, if not always the short term, to be professional and polite.
This is of course critical when addressing policy makers or politicians who are in a position to either help or hurt our cause, but it is still important when talking to our fellow citizens. Our reputation in the community matters, and we need to always act in a way that supports a positive, long term reputation and image.
When in doubt, follow the golden rule. Be professional and polite.
With that in mind, I would like to analyse a counter-protest staged at a recent rally that was being held by CeaseFirePA.
Before I comment further, I want to make absolutely plain that in this post we are not saying anything in support of the policy positions of CeaseFirePA. CeaseFirePA is a gun control group who explicitly opposes campus carry, so it is clear they and SCC disagree 180 degrees as to policy.
I also want to make it clear that while the people involved in making the video appear to be affiliated with a PA gun rights group, it does not appear this counter-protest was sponsored by that organization. It would be improper to discuss that organization at all in the first place since this counter-protest was not sponsored or conducted by them.
This post is about rhetoric and politeness, not firearms policy.
Both sides made errors in conduct and rhetoric shown on the video, and we can learn from the errors of both sides as a valuable informational tool.
With that massive disclaimer out of the way, let us begin. Here is the video:
The video starts mid-way through events, so we don’t know what happened before hand. But since the person that shot the video also edited it (who I will refer to hereafter as the “pamphleteer” since he is passing out pamphlets) , we should cast any needed inferences about unseen events against him.
What we see is a reasonably large event already underway. The event is being hosted by CeaseFirePA (co-sponsored by Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in American and Mayors Against Illegal Guns) . Later research indicates that this was held at Trinity Episcopal Church, Buckingham, PA; therefore, the event is on private property.
So we have a private event, by private actors, on private property, organized for a private purpose. The pamphleteer is therefore off to a rocky start.
It is important to bear in mind that the pamphleteer has no first amendment rights in this context because there is no State actor. The first amendment (and the second amendment for that matter) protects people against the government, not private parties. This is one of the reasons that SCC does not favor any legislation that would force private colleges to allow concealed carry; we certainly encourage them to do so out of their own initiative as Liberty University in Virginia has done, but a private college (or private church and private association in this case) has the right to make any decisions they want, and barring some other law that might apply, those decisions need not be consistent with any kind of first amendment principles.
To those who might insist that the pamphleteer should be viewed as having first amendment rights in this context, then we must also view the people in the crowd as having first amendment rights in that same context, and those people are currently exercising the both the right to assemble and the right to speak / listen to others speak. If a private actor could violate the first amendment in any sense, then it is the pamphleteer who is making the first violation by disrupting the organized assembly of another organization by walking into the middle of the attending crowd and conducting activities not consistent with the first amendment reasons the crowd was there for in the first place.
Further, the crowd is likely filled with a mixed group of people, who are being handed written materials at the very moment someone someone from the organizing entity is speaking. A reasonable person in the crowd might therefore reasonably assume the material is related to the speech or otherwise promulgated by the speech organizers, particularly since the pamphleteer is not wearing a button or otherwise visually distinguishing himself to make clear his lack of affiliation.
The nature of the venue also plays a factor. An event held at a private church conveys a more intimate setting then that which might be held at a public park. Organizers and patrons alike attending an event a larger event at a public park might reasonably expect opposition participation. While this event is outdoors, it is not (for example) at the state capital grounds during the legislative session where opposition might be expected and anticipated, but rather at a private venue.
Someone walking through the middle of their audience handing out pamphlets to the audience which is their to participate in the organizer’s event under these circumstances is not participating in best practices for being a positive persuasive force for their cause.
Before going on further, I would be remiss to not criticize the CeasefirePA woman volunteer seen in a red jacket for repeatedly using the word “parasite” at describing the person handing out pamphlets. The term was derogatory and unhelpful to her cause. I am sure the woman was frustrated, but this was an error on the CeasefirePA volunteer’s part. CeaseFirePA and its members would be wise to remember that the crowd is likely filed with a mixed group of people as noted above, and this rhetorical error was unnecessarily alienating to anyone in the audience who was neutral or who might have been opposed to CeasefirePA.
In email correspondence with CeaseFirePA (we wanted to get our facts straight, so we checked), CeaseFirePA makes clear that “The woman in the video is a volunteer who attended the event and doesn’t work for any of the groups that organized it.” In our view, the manner of her actions implied that she was acting on behalf of the organization, and we think it was error for her to act with this apparent authority. Based on her actions, a reasonable person could assume she was acting on directions from CeaseFirePA. The woman volunteer would have been much better off involving someone who had authority to intervene, so that that person could decide on the appropriate course of action.
The woman volunteer followed the pamphleteer around, and offered to collect back the materials from anyone who had been handed them. She did not force anyone to do so; at one point, a man in a black jacket keeps his pamphlet even after the lady extends her hand to collect it. Not being offered it by the man, she moves on. A very wise decision; the pamphlet is his property now, and forcibly taking it would have been wrong.
She also followed the pamphleteer around in order to bring attention to the fact the pamphleteer was not speaking for the event’s organizers. If these action had been taken by an agent of CeasefirePA, the underlying act itself (but not the rhetoric used) would have been proper since CeasefirePA has an interest in attempting to address any potential audience confusion and maintaining the integrity of its event. Here, however, the volunteer did not have the authority to conduct actions on behalf of the organizations who organized it, so her actions were not legitimate. Perhaps the organizers of the event did not mind the pamphleteer’s presence or actions, and even if they did, the volunteer had no way to know that and had no power to act on their behalf since she was not an agent of the organizers. Again, this is a private event by private organizers, and only they are in any position to determine what is and is not consistent with their objectives. The volunteer did a disservice to CeasefirePA by acting in a way that implied she was acting on behalf the organization, and thus improperly imbuing them to any third parties present at the event with her actions and conduct.
The CeasefirePA volunteer said several times she was going to get “security”; we never see these people on the video. The CeaseFirePA volunteer should not taken any direct action; it would have been much better for the volunteer to summon this security or otherwise ask for the intervention of someone who was empowered to act, so they could take such actions (or not take actions) as they might have wished.
The CeeaseFirePA volunteer was also perhaps unwise to engage the pamphleteer after the event under these circumstances. I personally like talking to our opposition at both events we hold and events they hold, but here, the pamphleteer’s prior interaction with the volunteer did not indicate such conversation was likely to be productive.
It was also very unwise for the CeaseFirePA volunteer to say that “we’ll come and we will crash yours, I promise”. When she uses the plural (twice) , who else is she speaking for? Who else is she making promises on behalf of? Saying this was a major, major rhetorical error; it radically reduced the volunteer by explicitly adopting the legitimacy of the tactics used by the pamphleteer in this video, tactics that by her actions she earlier that same day explicitly condemned. In one brief and ill-conceived use of rhetoric, the volunteer instantly became hypocritical. Because she was acting with the apparent authority of CeaseFirePA and she uses the plural “we”, it also reduced that organization (or at least whomever “we” was intended to include) by association.
We end the video with the pamphleteer being asked by an unidentified man to leave. The pamphleteer inquires why this man wants him to leave. “‘Cause I don’t want you here”. This is a perfectly legitimate reason for a private individual. In any event, it was clear at this point that the pamphleteer wasn’t really confused about why he was being asked to leave by the man.
Students for Concealed Carry believes in the freedom of speech for all and the consistent application of first amendment (and second amendment) principles. From time to time, we have been denied the opportunity to form clubs on campuses; denied the right to speak or hand out literature at all, or if allowed required to do so in far-away “free speech” zones far from any possible audience; denied the right to hold our annual empty holster protest (having to go to court in one such occasion); and other first amendment offenses by public colleges. We as an organization will not participate in any effort to silence our opposition by government force, nor do we sanction our members acting privately as “hecklers”.
Students for Concealed Carry believes it has the better argument and the better facts. We will win by the tools of persuasion. We will win by the tools of debate. We will win by the process of civilized commentary. We will win by the observed experience of the overwhelmingly vast majority of law abiding CHP permit holders behaving in a responsible manner. We will win by being informed, professional, and polite.