Sometimes an event happens that has a meaning beyond itself. A few months ago, Sutherland Springs, Texas, experienced the worst church shooting in U.S. history. Dozens of people were killed by a 26-year-old with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. Thankfully, he was stopped cold by Stephen Willeford who lived nearby – and had an AR-15 of his own.
Inside all this horror stands the secure knowledge of what one "good guy with a gun" can do if he has the heart. But it touched me also to learn that this hero (he says he's not) had been an NRA instructor who spent much of his time teaching kids the meaning and purpose of firearms – and how to handle the responsibility.
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First I should say, I was one of those "kids" – I had learned to shoot during my middle school years, thanks to an NRA training program at summer camp. I got good enough to compete with other boys who lived in the Tri-State area surrounding Manhattan.
By my senior year at Trinity School, I had already developed an appreciation for the spirit behind the Second Amendment, and how it related to my country. I was captain of the rifle team and regularly carried my Remington 22 on the New York City subway. No one cared, although they knew what was in my rifle case.
It was the 1960s, and most adults had vivid memories of World War II. They knew there was nothing wrong with teaching boys to shoot; after all, young men hardly older than we had died by the hundreds of thousands to beat back tyranny and "save the world for democracy."
For me, this was distant history, but my rifle team coach, Mr. Danforth, taught that history and also lived it. He knew the world was a dangerous place and that our young men had to be dangerous too.
I am sad at the loss of that wonderful generation, men and women who didn't use the word "safety" in every other sentence. That was before the media waged their endless, anti-gun scare campaigns, first against scoped rifles, branding them "sniper rifles." Then against handguns, labeled, "Saturday night specials." And then against semi-automatic rifles – the now infamous, "assault rifles." They never quit – the issue only gets more and more emotionalized.
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For years I've watched the left claim that the conduct of lawbreakers is a good reason to disarm the innocent, while all along knowing that the guilty will stay armed because they're lawbreakers.
The word, "irrational" comes to mind. Think of a desperate gang leader in a gun fight pulling out a bolt action, hunting rifle that he's forced to use because semi-autos are illegal. If that were a movie scene, we'd all be laughing.
But the deeper and sadder truth is that the national debate in the media increasingly pivots away from reason.
The leftists who control my party can't offer America much by way of policy or functional ideology. So they give us emotion, usually fear and hate, directed at people they oppose or groups (like the NRA) that threaten their agenda. They're good at it too – and the media culture backs them up, using the same persuasive techniques I learned back in my film school days at NYU.
Full disclosure, I currently head up an all-male community policing group in the Northwest (Concerned Fathers Against Crime) that has been operating for almost 25 years in an "open carry" state. (We've been praised all the way up to the Bush 43 White House.)
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I also led a Second Amendment group in Los Angeles, which fought the "assault rifle" issue after the Stockton schoolyard shooting 30 years ago. Then as now, there was a Category 5 "hate campaign" directed at the NRA.
I remember a flyer the South Central Organizing Committee (SCOC) was handing out at a city council meeting I attended – and where my own group, Liberty Coalition Against Crime (LCAC), got started. It said:
The NRA thinks these rifles [AK-47s] are for sport.
They must think that killing children is a sport.
Nothing has changed. Luckily we made a video back then about our media coverage, because it's good for younger citizens to know there's nothing new about the left's technique to villainize opponents.
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By attacking the NRA as murderers they seek to weaken a fundamental American right. It's the same strategy used by some Parkland students, and the one that helped them dominate the news cycle for weeks (a true case study in this methodology).
As any "action film" director knows, you have to have a villain if you are going to inspire enough fear and hate to hold the audience in your grip.
But this is about "making news," not movies – about votes, not entertainment. Through the meta-narratives advanced by the left and aided by the mass media, you can actually watch young minds being shaped and movements motivated. It's a "Blitzkrieg attack" of overwhelming speed and power, leaving no time to breathe, much less think.
Here "news directors" are making the decisions, and the "action film" is what you see on network and cable TV, played out these days on all the social media platforms from YouTube to Facebook to the late night comedians.
Each side tries to control the narrative by "creating news" through large rallies, marches and other kinds of demonstrations. Anything your side can do to capture media attention. The only question is whose story will become "the story."
Grass-roots demonstrations are effective because they look real, but actually they're more like "reality TV" – scripted and casted just like any other production. I've organized rallies, and I've directed films. It's the same basic process.
We did our best after the Stockton shooting to tell our side of the "news story," putting on rallies and candlelight vigils to counter the anti-gun groups in Los Angeles. But in truth, we were amateurs up against professionals.
The left dominates this arena, not only because the media already wants to tell their story – and doesn't want to tell ours – but also because the left's politicians, unions (government or otherwise) and special interest groups are well organized. The process for them is "push-button."
President Reagan called this the "Iron Triangle" – a whipping momentum developed by the left's ability to coordinate "the groups," their politicians, and the cheerleading media. Today, it's more like an "Iron Box," because the international left gets involved too.
No surprise, faced with that kind of coordinated "fake roots" power, regular Americans will increasingly look to institutions like the National Rifle Association. It's why the near 150-year-old NRA in particular has such a loyal following.
Simply put, traditional Americans need a genuine powerhouse fighter to stand against the monolith of the anti-gun global media. They see how the left exploits widespread ignorance about firearms on the part of well-meaning people who naturally hate gun violence.
Hope and reason
I was invited to a lively Manhattan dinner party recently, and as we finished our dessert, the host asked me to explain the gun issue to the assembled 10 or so guests. After years in radio, I'm used to explaining myself, so at his urging I launched into a point by point analysis geared to folks who live in tall buildings with doormen and have little need for self-defense or grasp of the larger issues at stake.
However, I was impressed at their response. Sure, there was tension in the room, because for some the subject was emotional, but there was also genuine interest in my passionate explanation. Though born and raised in Manhattan, I'd lived in rural Oregon for many years, so I understood both ways of thinking.
The good news is that I saw most of the guests soften their views. It gave me real hope for the struggle to protect our liberties. I believe there are countless other big city Americans willing to listen, people who genuinely want to understand the other half of the country.
But they do need to know that our passion rests on more than a firm belief in "the right to bear arms."
It comes down to the spirit behind that historic right. When Stephen Willeford heard those shots at the church next door he knew people were dying and grabbed his rifle.
"It's a matter of the heart," he reflected later. "I'm not the bravest man in the world or anything, but I was here. I was here, and I could do something. And I had to do something."
The Second Amendment symbolizes a thing far greater than itself – something actually more sacrosanct than free speech – something that stands at the very heart of the American character, and says, here I am – for this I will risk my life.
Our unique personhood, as expressed by the right to "take responsibility," is the root of our freedom. But this "sovereign citizenship" is meaningless if we do not honor our sovereign authority.
What king or queen rejects their own power and gives up their army – in other words, their capacity to do their duty and fulfill their obligations?
Americans are not sheep to be herded by government, nor is any person who walks this earth. Each of us can startle the world with our singular humanity that even science agrees is something unique to us all. Yet the founding ethic of our nation says much more, that we are created beings, and as such, we are empowered by the God who made us.
With this authority we pick our leaders. With this authority, we raise our children and build our future. With this authority we stand our ground and demand respect from the government we created.
Among those who lead free nations, the greatest truly revere the sovereign citizens they serve. Lesser leaders adhere to this as "political tradition," but the demagogues of the hard left do not respect us at all. They do not seek to represent, but rather to usurp our authority. They would make us sheep.
This includes many in the media and touches on a problem central to understanding the gun issue.
Think about it. With all the attention paid to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, we hardly noticed Deputy Blaine Gaskill, the campus cop in Maryland who weeks later bravely confronted an active shooter and saved lives. For that matter, most of us never heard of Stephen Willeford and his AR-15. Sure they both made the news – but not for long!
The media culture loves victims, but they are "just not that into" heroes – especially armed heroes. The word "effete" comes to mind.
As the national debate continues, watch the media response to the idea of arming teachers or strengthening campus security. It's too scary – too heroic. The whole attitude is wrong. I heard some suggest that teachers should get paid for keeping a gun to defend the kids. Paid?
How about keeping a gun locked in your desk just because you are a responsible adult – and don't want to find yourself huddled in a closet with kids hoping the shooter will focus elsewhere. As a former teacher, that kind of passive attitude in the face of an active threat to children suggests lip-curling spinelessness.
But it's not lip-curling for our media elite or my increasingly un-American Democratic Party. They are all just fine with leaving our teachers helpless – and our students undefended. As if some passive "gun-ban" would protect our schools!
They should check out Wikipedia's description of the "Beslan school siege" where over 300 students and parents were murdered by well-armed terrorists who attacked on opening day, captured the school, and started throwing children out of the windows.
What kind of fog do we live in? A crowded Florida bar can be attacked, or a Texas church, but somehow our equally unarmed schools will be "safe"?
"Irrational" is the exact word. But there's something more going on than our discomfort with real heroes. I believe the root of the problem is our culture's growing – and yes, irrational – fear of traditional American men. Why?
They are the kind of men who own guns and take responsibility for the protection of women and children. If they're teachers, they don't want to be "paid" to keep a gun in a locked drawer. They don't want to hide or huddle when danger comes; they want to deal aggressively with the problem. They want to "take command" of the situation if there's no one more qualified to do it. It is an insult to these men to require passivity – as our anti-hero society seems to do.
With few exceptions, boys don't see these kinds of men in our media culture – and I'm not talking about video war games or superhero movies. Ironically, in real life real men are everywhere on the front lines at home or abroad, protecting what we hold dear as a country.
Somehow, out of proper respect for women, we've forgotten to honor men – who often live right next door and stand ready to protect us.
Sadly, teaching masculinity to boys is increasingly rare – unless you are on the football team. Most all-male schools like the one I attended (founded in 1709) are a thing of the past. Yet, they once provided a great service by showing boys "what it means to be a man."
And don't think the old code of "women and children first" is relegated to the days of the Titanic. That ethic will never leave us. Who of us would have accepted the James Cameron 1997 "Titanic" if he showed Leonardo DiCaprio allowing Kate Winslet to drown so his character might live on to tell their love story?
But does this means that women who accept the sacrifice of men are cowards or wimps? Of course not! It means they respect men. You can be sure the women of the real Titanic would have gladly also drowned if it meant protecting their children.
This is "the code" – the traditional understanding of duty and responsibility. It's as deeply connected to the gun issue and our freedom as it is to our personhood. And it will always be such in America if this nation is to survive. Effete cultures have no future.
Reclaiming our roots
Right now, due to our cultural ignorance, which claims no difference between the sexes (despite what science says), we face a danger far beyond the many horrible school shootings.
Imagine a country of boys and men who feel no responsibility to protect women. We are closer to this nightmare than you think – and our enemies are watching.
It's been almost 20 years since the horrible massacre at Columbine High School. We remember the security camera shots of panicked children rushing helter-skelter with nowhere to go. And the 911 call from a teacher, screaming for kids to stay under the library tables. Helpless to do anything, she would soon witness the worst carnage that day.
We certainly can't forget the main video of those two killers roaming around the lunch room like shadows in their black trench coats. But we may not remember it wasn't only girls huddled under the tables. Boys were huddled right there with them.
Didn't anyone teach those boys what it means to be a man? Didn't anyone teach them to take responsibility in a moment like that? Of course, the answer is no. But it wasn't always like that in this country.
A few years ago, I led a seminar and interviewed a man named Earle Tyerman, a World War II veteran of D-Day and Battle of the Bulge. Looking at this frail man standing next to me, it was hard to believe he was a concentration camp liberator, proud of the letter he received from first lady Laura Bush whose father had liberated the same death camp. Back then, Earle was a genuine sharpshooter, often assigned (at age 19) to guard generals from would-be German snipers.
Now this old soldier stood before an audience of younger men as I asked him how the high school boys of his era would have responded to the Columbine attack. He didn't hesitate.
"I would have said, 'On three, get 'em.'" Earle knew just on the basis of odds, that 15 or 20 high school boys rushing the two killers from different directions could have stopped the cowards cold. It didn't take brains or brawn; it just took courage – and an adult society to teach it.
(Did you ever wonder why a nation so dependent on a volunteer military doesn't teach about that military in its public schools?)
But Earle knew something even more important than courage – or maybe it's the same thing. He knew he couldn't live with himself if he just stood by and watched girls murdered. He knew he was responsible.
Yes, Earle Tyerman was a member of the famed "greatest generation," but his attitude wasn't new. Every generation of Americans before him was taught that same fierce truth. Men are ultimately responsible for the protection of women and children. And boys are responsible for the protection of girls. And we are all responsible to face down evil.
Of course, this truth makes our PC media culture very uncomfortable, just as they are uncomfortable with our military and law enforcement, or armed teachers – or for that matter any armed American – man or woman – who stands to protect others.
But it is America's profound and majestic Second Amendment that makes the left particularly uncomfortable. Because it treats us all like heroes.
Mr. Stephen Willeford was right. "It's a matter of the heart."