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Please keep that in mind when you read the comments people have posted
As most people know, there are activists in Texas who are making a point of going to public places with visible firearms. They have gotten a lot of attention because some chain restaurants and stores have prohibited them from openly carrying their weapons, mostly because it frightens other patrons.
This fear is legitimate. As many have pointed out, there is no way for bystanders to know whether the people with guns are “good guys” or “bad guys.” It is rational to be afraid of someone with a weapon, especially if you know nothing about them.
Furthermore, as Jon Stewart has pointed out better than anyone else, since people are often legally permitted to use guns to protect themselves when they are legitimately afraid for their lives, there is no predicting when someone is going to see the activists and shoot before they ask questions. This will happen. It is just a matter of time. And, in many cases, it will be a legal and rational act. None of us want to be victims of the crossfire.
The questions that concerns me now is how we bystanders should react when people come into a store with guns. There really is no legitimate way of determining intent. Even if the people with guns are carrying a sign claiming to be activists (which they do not do), they could be lying, just setting us all up for slaughter. And since there is no way to know what is on their minds, all we have are our instincts, but as we all should know, our instincts are often racist, classist, and frequently mistaken. So, what should we do?
My proposal is as follows: we should all leave. Immediately. Leave the food on the table in the restaurant. Leave the groceries in the cart, in the aisle. Stop talking or engaging in the exchange. Just leave, unceremoniously, and fast.
But here is the key part: don’t pay. Stopping to pay in the presence of a person with a gun means risking your and your loved ones’ lives; money shouldn’t trump this. It doesn’t matter if you ate the meal. It doesn’t matter if you’ve just received food from the deli counter that can’t be resold. It doesn’t matter if you just got a haircut. Leave. If the business loses money, so be it. They can make the activists pay.
Following this procedure has several advantages. First, it protects people. Second, it forces the businesses to really choose where their loyalties are. If the second amendment is as important as people claim, then people should be willing to pay for it. God knows, free speech is tremendously expensive. If it weren’t, I’d be reading this on ESPN during prime time, not posting this on Blogger.
Third, this proposal has the added advantage of taking the activists seriously. Most gun-rights activists describe a world of tremendous dangers. Guns, they repeatedly tell us, are the only thing between home invasion, rape, murder, and government intrusion. Okay, well if that’s true, then we bystanders should be equally afraid, and react instantaneously to keep away the chaos and the violence. We learned to be afraid from the gun-rights supporters. They have gotten everything they wanted.
Just one final thing. The difficulty of knowing other people’s intent is a classic philosophical problem. It is epistemological in that it involves the limits of our knowledge. We can’t really know what anyone else hopes to do, and sometimes, because of the subconscious and of self-deception, we don’t ever know what our own true intent is. It is also an example of the problem of other minds. We can never really enter into the perspective of any other person, nor can we ever really know what they think (or even if they think). We are discrete individuals and communication is unreliable.
My point: the political and economic realities of running from gun activists is, yet again, founded on classic philosophical issues, and when we take positions on issues of the day, we are really taking positions philosophically. The gun-rights activists think that their intent is obvious and that everyone knows what they hope to do. They believe their minds are transparent. But this is because they are all extreme narcissists. It baffles them that we don’t all know exactly what they are thinking. It shocks them that we don’t know that Jim is a good guy, and that Sally would never murder anyone. But they are wrong. We don’t know them and we don’t know how they think. The only thing that makes us notice them at all is that they have guns and truthfully, that’s why they carry them in the first place. They want to be celebrities, heroes, and the centers of attention.
So, let’s give them what they want. Let’s take them as seriously as possible and run like hell. They’ll feel important and if they really care about gun rights, they won’t mind paying for the hundreds of meals that they inspired the innocent bystanders to leave behind.
(Update: I respond to many of the comments here.)
(Update, 7/25/14: I was going to fix the typo in the fourth paragraph, but that would make Wonkette look bad, and why should I return such kindness by making their post inaccurate? Thanks Wonkette! I am honored by your praise.)