The week of January 20th, Handwaving Freakoutery (HWFO / B.J. Campbell) attended SHOT Show 2020 with the Open Source Defense group, meeting with manufacturers, media outlets, and gun culture celebrities to exchange ideas, thoughts, and make connections for the future of writing on both HWFO and OSD. The week at the world’s largest industry only gun convention was very draining, and very productive. As I sat down to gather my thoughts on the experience, I figured it might be fun to publish them.
Open Source Defense’s registration this year was as a “research firm” instead of a media firm, owing to what we’ll call “general registration fuckery,” which made for some interesting conversations in the smoking area. Got some sideways looks initially. I introduced myself as a mathematician. The sideways looks got more obtuse. Then, the pitch.
Everyone at SHOT has an elevator pitch. Say everything you’re about in two minutes or less, bombard the people around you, exchange business cards, shake hands, and then fish out your bottle of Purell to try and avoid contracting the SHOT Plague. Phrased in that way it sounds horrible, but in truth it’s basically no different than any other business networking meeting, just larger, and more potentially prone to contact borne diseases from across the country. Common Sense Germ Control.
All but one core member of Open Source Defense was there. Our graphics designer (Daiji Shikama), photographer (Mike Madjewski), and our three core writers (Kareem Shaya, Chuck Rossi, myself) attended. Jon Stokes, founder in concept was also there, but focusing all his time on his other actually profitable project, The Prepared. Our elevator pitches varied by our interests and focus.
Daiji and Mike ran “friendly organic gear talk.” This always worked, because folks at SHOT are fundamentally gear heads.
Kareem’s pitch was interesting. “You cannot be an unpopular minority.” If gun rights are to advance, gun ownership must either become a majority endeavor, or a popular one. History is not kind to the unpopular minority, owing to the general human condition. I feel his family’s history as immigrants from Lebanon, as well as his own experiences as an amputee, may have informed his pitch. It was good.
Chuck Rossi’s pitch was direct and important and backed by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) itself. Chuck, from his extensive time at Facebook as an engineer, is plugged deeply into navigating the minefields of social media censors at Instagram, Facebook, and similar. He knows how to avoid getting deplatformed, and how to get re-platformed if it happens. His pitch was either “Here’s my card, call me if you get deplatformed,” or “Remember that time I rescued your entire business? That was cool huh? Also here’s my card.” People were very glad to see him. Also, if you’re reading this and you have a problem like that, head over to the OSD website and fish up his email.
My pitch was complicated. If you know the HWFO material, you know we have spent two years hammering out an internet novella breaking down the social constructions and media interactions that make up the modern internet metabrain, what biologists might call the superorganism, or Peter Limberg has come to characterize the “noosphere.” And we originally went down this nutty thought experiment to try and explain why the media is lying about guns. How can someone render the fat on this thought experiment to cook it into a two-minute elevator pitch? Especially for the aforementioned SHOT Show monoculture?
Here’s what I went with.
The modern media generates its revenue from outrage and anxiety. The maximal outrage and anxiety is created by media snippets that divide the country into exact 50/50 splits, making them argue, and farming the arguments for clicks. The media around guns, anti and pro alike, are guilty of this. Because people are partially products of their environment, this media behavior carves the country into 50/50 tribes. Politics is downstream of the tribes, which is why we see election results so narrowly close to 50/50 splits. This is no individual’s fault, and it’s probably unfixable, and if we are going to navigate gun rights in a positive direction we must accept that this is the sea in which we swim.
Which means, very specifically, that if gun rights are attached to one of the two 50/50 tribes, then the ceiling for gun rights is 50% of the country, and the most gun advocates can possibly hope is to be in power half the time. If your goal is any higher than that, then gun rights must be detached from the culture war. There is no other option, like it or not.
It’s a garbage elevator speech because it’s still too long, but it’s the best I could develop. It’s more like a “one and a half cigarettes” speech. I didn’t throw it at many manufacturers, because (A) they don’t care, and (B) I’m not a particularly large gearhead. Walking around with Daiji and Mike, our artist team, I just let them talk because they knew meaningful questions to ask the folks at Holosun or Aimpoint or Brownells, while I dicked around trying to figure out what trigger to buy for my AR.
The only gear related report I have is this. Keltec has absolutely figured out how to make a bullpup that feels right. Shooting the RDB rifle and KSG shotgun have risen to the top of my range “to do” list. The only procedural advice I have, is the fifth floor bathrooms of The Sands Expo are worth the escalator trip.
We met with many people, but these were the highlights for me personally:
Iain Harrison — editor at Recoil Magazine
Iain reached out to OSD cold, with a one liner email that said something along the lines of “Why aren’t we working together?” We met him early in the week, and the meeting was very positive. It may lead to Recoil republishing some of our work, possibly even in print form, which would be fun.
I don’t know much about Rob, but he’s known to be a lightning rod within the upper echelons of the gun community. He has apparently been working with one of the prior major talking heads of the Brady Campaign, who has switched sides to some degree or another. I’m not entirely up to speed on their current project, which I believe to be some kind of gun safety pledge movement. There are people within the community that don’t like the association, due to prior bad blood with Brady. I don’t know enough about the schism and the freakoutery to convey a full explanation, but it’s the sort of thing that trackers of inter-gun-community politics may want to watch. He seems very positive on the OSD mission.
Yoav Dotan — F.A.B. Defense
Yoav is a very energetic fellow. Chuck helped Yoav restore some Instagram pages which had been taken down in the past, and Yoav wanted to thank him. Chuck and I spoke with him for about fifteen minutes in the F.A.B. booth office about social media, the back end of how the businesses have implemented censorship, and how to avoid getting taken down in the future. I also conveyed some of the “bell reverberation theory of internet viral traffic” we covered here. The following day, we met one of his Instagram models that Chuck also helped get back online, after a Turkish hacker had stolen her account. She was very friendly.
Chris Cheng — Pink Pistols
OSD had drinks with Chris and a friend of his one evening. Chris is known in the gun community for winning Top Shot Season 4. (Iain Harrison of Recoil above won Season 1) Chris also has a book out, and is one of the few gun celebrities who is openly gay. He is transitioning into a larger leadership role for the Pink Pistols, a LGBTQ gun rights organization, and we discussed some of the changes he hopes to bring to it. In particular, Pink Pistols historically didn’t keep rolls, to ensure the safety of members who were still “in the closet” about their sexuality. He said preliminarily he wants to see this change, so Pink Pistols can point to rolls and numbers and general influential power when they meet with other gun organizations. We all agreed that would be a positive change, but I cautioned him about pushing too hard on this with members in the rural south, who may need to stay off books due to social pressures, or for their literal safety. He will need to tread carefully with that.
Active Self Protection — Steph Weidner and John Correia
I was very excited to meet ASP, because they have shared several of my articles in the past. We spoke about the general mission, and I was able to grind out my elevator pitch quite well with John and Steph. John also recorded two spots with Chuck, one about navigating social media censors, and another about OSD, at a table in the private NSSF area. Unfortunately the OSD recording may have had some curious background interference, as Sands Expo staff dumped and changed a trashcan in literally the loudest and longest way possible, so that might be a funny thing to look out for. Both of those videos will be hosted in the weeks to come on the Active Self Protection Extra Youtube Channel.
Douglas Jefferson — NAAGA and Casey Woods — Overwatch Project
Mike and I met with Douglas Jefferson, vice president of the National African American Gun Association and Casey Woods, of the Overwatch Project. NAAGA (pronounced “naw-ga”) is a fascinating group, and growing rapidly. Originally founded only a half-decade ago in my hometown of Atlanta Georgia, NAAGA now has 30,000 members and seventy five chapters across thirty states. Membership in NAAGA requires three classes, including training not only on safety and responsibility, but on the historical role of arms in the black community nationwide, with attention paid to the Jim Crow south.
One of the things that struck me in my conversations with Doug was the deep parallelism with the mindset of the overall “monoculture,” which goes like this. The gun community commonly holds that gun ownership is to protect yourself or your family when an armed authority is unable to respond in a timely manner to a violent situation, or is unwilling to do so, or both. The anti-gun community commonly dismisses this as a minor problem, or sheer paranoia. But the historical experiences of the black community are a direct counterexample to this dismissal. The history of oppression of black folk in the United States, and of their defensive gun use in the face of this oppression, is perfect proof of concept for the rhetoric within the (largely white) gun culture in the United States. I find that not only interesting for the gun debate, but I also wonder if a grander acknowledgement of it may help to build bridges between races where prior bridges aren’t as robust as they could be.
Casey Woods was equally interesting. She has several irons in the fire, one of the most important being Overwatch Project. This is a gun suicide prevention initiative, focused on firearm protective storage among veterans who may be suicidal, which is the very thing HWFO has railed on here and here in prior articles, and in podcasts as well. Gun deaths are two thirds suicides, seven eighths of those are men, and her group is tackling the actual gun deaths issue head on with solid funding and resources that are impressive. She even managed focus groups with motorcycle clubs, learning the language they use to convince their buddies to entrust their guns to friends when they’re having a hard time of it, and leveraged that language into Overwatch Project’s material. “J.F.A.” Just Fucking Ask.
Guns Guide to Liberals
This is a new and intriguing podcast, run by John Hauptman and Sarah Cade, who coincidentally got hitched in Vegas last week at Shot. They do short, nonpartisan pieces focused on ways to communicate charitably and in good faith, within the gun space. They are apparently fans of HWFO and OSD, and we invited them to our AirBNB to record a podcast. We also had Douglas Jefferson from NAAGA show up. GGTL intends to carve up some the over two hours of recorded material into more digestible segments for release in the near future. I made my pitch, Doug made his, Chuck made his, and we also talked about a lot of other wide-ranging topics. Look for bits of it to come out in the coming weeks or months.
In all, it was a fun and successful trip.