One of the things that might make passing any sort of gun safety legislation hard for President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats is that over the past couple of decades, the attitudes among liberals have shifted away from the period of time when comprehensive, one-size-fits-all gun control was an essential part of their party's platform. What I have observed is that in recent electoral cycles, Democrats have largely abandoned the effort to curb gun ownership in order to win a more sizable share of the vote in Western states, where voters are more typically aligned with Democrats on a range of issues (chief among them environmental conservation) but could never get on board with the party's traditional stance on guns.
But now that I've read this recent piece by McKay Coppins and C.J. Lotz in Buzzfeed, I'm forced to confront the possibility that the big cultural shift among liberals that led to a loosening of gun control demands largely came about because three guys from the Internet went to a gun range that one time.
Yes, in a piece that's really confusing to read (unless you understand in advance that the whole point of it is to ridicule three members of the New York media who are presumed to be liberal and went to a shooting range once and had a picture taken of the experience), Coppins and Lotz do their best imitation of a Style-section trend piece, implicating Reuters' Anthony De Rosa, Complex Magazine's Foster Kamer, and The New York Times "Media Decoder" blogger and author David Carr in a playing a leading role in permanently altering the liberal attitudes toward guns.
"Gun culture," we are told, is "more expansive than ever" because now "coastal elites" are going shooting at gun ranges. I sort of thought that the very reason that De Rosa and Kamer and Carr were able to avail themselves of a New York City-based shooting range in the first place pretty much indicates that "gun culture" is thriving with or without the participation of people who I know from Twitter. But, you see, the fact that these guys are on Twitter is sort of the point:
Since that first experience, Kamer has made a handful of trips to a New Jersey shooting range, bringing along a cadre of Twitter-savvy media types -- including New York Times columnist David Carr and Reuters Social Media Editor Anthony De Rosa -- who post photos of themselves posing with guns and tweet trash talk about each other's shots.
Not long ago, photos like the one of Carr and co. posing with shotguns likely would have scandalized their more righteous liberal peers. In 1994, The New York Times Magazine captured the left's gun taboo at the time with a long, first-person essay by a "hoplophobe" (someone with a morbid fear of weapons) who decides to visit a shooting range. The gun-fearing author, Phillip Weiss, disapprovingly describes the "almost orgasmic" feeling of wielding a shotgun, frets about the weapon's threat to the "social contract," and concludes that guns represent a "crude means of arriving at that feeling" of sovereignty.
I don't exactly know if it's true that "not long ago" David Carr would have been scandalized by a photo of him posing with a shotgun. I do know that "not long ago" David Carr was living a life of cocaine addiction and emotional squalor, and I know that because he wrote about it in a book which was subsequently sold at bookstores, so I'm guessing that the idea that Carr would be "scandalized" by his "more righteous liberal peers" for going to a shooting range is a notion that he would find incredibly amusing.
(I am also pretty sure that a first-person essay from The New York Times Magazine in 1994 about a "hoplophobe" who learned to stop worrying and start having orgasms with guns may not necessarily be representative of "liberal attitudes toward gun culture" eighteen years ago, either.)
At any rate, from there, we are asked to find it ironic, somehow, that one of this trio's pals works at Gawker, and recently Gawker published an article that listed all of New York's gun owners, referring to them initially in their headline as "assholes," because -- and I'm just guessing here! -- they wanted to be (briefly) controversial. And then there is a bar with a video game about hunting, and people are still reading Garden and Gun magazine, and ... being locavores? Yes, somehow the recent trends toward "free-range, organic, local meat" is another contributing factor toward "gun culture." I know, it's almost as if "culture" is complicated, or something.
Here's one uncomplicated thing, though: one can occasionally go hunting, or to a shooting range, and still not necessarily endorse every single thing that every single gun owner wants to do or feels entitled to do -- sort of like how when I went to the movies in 2012, I was technically supporting an industry that produced the Adam Sandler movie "That's My Boy." But that's as far as that support went, I promise you. As the kids say, "Retweets do not equal endorsements."
The same would seem to apply to De Rosa and Kamer, both of whom take issue with the way they've been depicted in this Buzzfeed article. Kamer has objected strenuously to the piece on Twitter today, and was happy to share the emails he sent to and received from Coppins. Here's how he reacted to the story being published:
What the fuck was that? How did you omit the entire part about my finding gun culture reprehensible? About how I spent the entire Christmas holiday screaming at my Dad to get rid of guns? Should I play back the conversation for you?
Sent from my iPhone
To which Coppins responded:
What is your actual problem with the story? I think you and I may be using different definitions of "gun culture," and "liberal" for that matter. I'm not talking strictly about Democratism; I'm referring to cultural liberalism in a broad way.
Which prompted further reaction from Kamer:
I was at breakfast, otherwise I would've replied sooner: "Cultural liberalism" was never something we discussed, and I don't think I could even remotely be considered a "cultural liberal" by anyone other that those out to associate New York Jews with Liberalsim [sic] (and if my joke about coastal elitism was too obtuse, then holy shit, do we ever not see eye to eye on the matter of tone). We had a fifteen minute conversation about how nuanced and murky the issues of gun culture are, and how I don't even remotely support hunting for sport or food in 2012, or how I disapproved of gun ownership to the point of it nearly ruining Christmas with my family. How that constitutes being "won over" by "gun culture" is far beyond me. And "broad way"? That's a nice euphemism for "sweeping generalizations" that you didn't even remotely key me into. You totally lied to me about the thrust of the piece.
Of course, early on in their emails back and forth, Kamer essentially warns himself against further participation. His first email back to Coppins contains this paragraph, which he peppers with many red flags:
You sound like the motherfucking Sunday Styles! "Sophisticates in urban areas," eh? I don't think you would find a person on God's Green Earth who'd describe me as anything even remotely close to a "sophisticate." Possibly a "coastal elite" or maybe even a "New York Jew," but certainly not a "sophisticate." And as a reporter, I know good and well not to talk to other reporters for anything that sounds even remotely like a trend piece. But I like Ben, and Rosie, and the gun issue is an important, fascinating one. Just promise not to fuck me up too much, and I'm happy to get on the horn around noon.
This is probably a good rule to follow, by the way: if a reporter calls you up and asks you to participate in something that sounds like a New York Times-style trend piece or profile, you should assume from the outset that you are going to get rooked. The best way to approach such requests is to politely decline.
That Kamer objects to the way Coppins presented him in his story is, of course, one of the stories here. And De Rosa joins him in those objections, taking to his Tumblr to offer his readers the quotes that Buzzfeed didn't run. As you read them, however, you should reflect on the fact that both Kamer and Foster are jointly presented in the Buzzfeed piece as being evidence of an aligned shift in cultural attitudes towards guns. Does it stand up? The answer is no:
I’m not a gun owner, but I am someone who I guess has a nuanced view of gun control which probably doesn’t satisfy conservatives or liberals.
I don’t think most gun laws work, as criminals will get ahold of guns no matter what laws you put in place. You’d have to start with the manufacturers, not with the dealers. I also think that gun laws mostly make it hard for law-abiding citizens from obtaining weapons to defend themselves and their homes, not from allowing criminals to acquire guns. The mass shootings we’ve had are horrible and there are many that took place from legally acquired guns, but I think this is more a symptom of a gun culture in America and a lust for violence that is different than anywhere else in the world.
I’ve been to a gun range a total of two times. I enjoyed it, I liked shooting skeet and trap. I can relate to sportsmen outside NY who enjoy it as well. I can’t relate to the ones who think semi-automatic and automatic weapons are guns for sport, or that large magazines are necessary. However, making those guns illegal doesn’t make them harder to obtain for criminals who want them. Drug war and prohibition of alcohol will show you a similar misplaced solution.
So, just for the sake of keeping score, here's the story. Two guys walk into a shooting range (with another guy). They shoot guns. Even after the experience, one guy is of the mind that gun ownership is still "reprehensible," and will go on, weeks later, to spend "the entire Christmas holiday screaming at my Dad to get rid of guns." The other guy remains of the mind "that gun laws mostly make it hard for law-abiding citizens from obtaining weapons to defend themselves and their homes, not from allowing criminals to acquire guns" and that making the guns that he finds objectionable illegal will not "make them harder to obtain for criminals who want them."
(For the record, I am also a coastal elite who's been to a gun range and shot guns and enjoyed the experience and I fall, in terms of my attitude on "gun culture," somewhere between Kamer and De Rosa, almost as if common experiences do not necessarily create common responses, or something.)
So, do Kamer and De Rosa adequately stand in as a noteworthy example of the changing attitudes toward gun culture among liberals? Well, from the looks of things, not only do Kamer and De Rosa not agree on the issue, there isn't any evidence that even their particular attitudes toward gun culture have changed to any significant degree.
On Twitter, Coppins responded to De Rosa's objections to the story and his subsequent elucidation of his own stance on guns by professing to not understand how De Rosa's "thoughts on gun control undermine the story's premise." Well, the story's premise is that "gun culture won over liberals." The "liberals" presented are De Rosa and Kamer. It is a material fact that they are not of the same mind on "gun culture." It is a material fact that Kamer, at least, has not at all been "won over" by "gun culture." Thus, it looks to me like the premise of the story is bullshit.
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