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An Aggressive Debate

An Aggressive Debate

by Leroy Pyle

I am probably not alone in my disappointment with the defensive posture of the gun rights spokesman in many debates or media interviews. "Our side" is repeatedly put in the position of making excuses whenever there is the report of the misuse of a firearm in the commission of a crime or some other abominable act. Adding insult to injury, in a typical media report, is a very gory scene of bloody victims and their grieving relatives, followed by the VERY edited remarks of the pro-gun spokesperson. It is not unusual that he or she comes across as having only feeble excuses.

This is not always the fault of the spokesperson, as I have long suspected that the media is not above intentionally choosing the least qualified speaker.

There has been a call, and I heard it first at the NRA Annual Meetings, to leave the media duties to the pros. The reason, it is explained, is that a poor spokesman can be used by the media to put a negative slant on the issues. Frankly, it is the fear of the "bubba factor" at work. I disagree with this approach for a number of reasons, but primarily because there is a WEALTH of experience and enthusiasm available in the firearms community by great people from varying occupations and backgrounds.

As a career law enforcement officer, I will have experiences and viewpoints that may make an impression that might, otherwise, be left unsaid. And a mother’s view, or a young businessman in the city, can address problems that would be speculation for me. The “Butcher, the Baker, the Candlestick maker” can all make a contribution that, by the nature of their individuality, increase the chance of reaching an understanding audience.

And besides, having someone tell us that "they" are the only ones capable of responsible actions, while "we" are not qualified, just does not sit well. Sounds a bit too familiar for those of us in the firearms community, doesn't it?

For a variety of reasons, the afore-mentioned high on the list, many activists refuse to talk to the media and encourage others to do likewise. They have tried it and found it uncomfortable enough to never want the experience again. So bad a feeling that they wouldn’t wish it on any of their friends! I disagree. Not because it won’t be tough and there is that good chance the media will not play fair, but because whatever you say, the gunnies out there will understand. They’ll cheer you on and recognize the effort for what was intended. The will probably be proud that “one of us” got in the news for a change. And let’s face it, you could be the world’s greatest orator and the anti will ignore you anyway!

I will encourage you to get involved, and am prompted to recommend an aggressive debate style by my own experience. I certainly don’t claim to be the best, and I have had my share of both good and bad interviews. One of the good ones when I went on the offensive was on public television. I was accused of being overly aggressive by the producer when it was all over. I had been invited to debate an HCI spokesman on a program that he described as being "something like Crossfire". I had participated in a couple of Crossfire interviews, so pumped up for some action.

Upon arrival at the station, I found my opponent to be a long-time HCI spokeswoman who describes herself as "Ms. anti-gun of Marin County". The co-moderators were a newspaper editor on the left, and an attorney on the right (ha!). It did not take long before the debate became a three-on-one affair.

Under those circumstances, it wouldn't make much difference what I said if I relied only on my 25% of the time. The other three had their common agenda, so I figured my share at 50% and went for it. In addition to the producer's comments I received one unsigned letter of complaint and a variety of attaboy calls from some real Americans. One call was from an old high school buddy I hadn't seen in years. Very complimentary and personally satisfying, as you might imagine. I wonder what the response would have been to my sitting there in fashionable debate?

I will encourage you all to take a shot at the media. Figuratively speaking, of course! But go for it, and just try to do your best with the information you have. A big mistake is to talk about something you don't know. I always envy the Dave Kopels and Neal Knoxs who can rattle off statistics and past events like they were reading a book. I can't do that, and don't try. I try to apply my personal experience to the situation being discussed. That makes it familiar, comfortable, and truthful. Much like any other public speaking chore you might have had. The stranger the subject, the more nervous and erroneous you can be. It is safe to stick with subjects or thoughts that you are familiar with.

Granted, not everyone is a public speaker. If you don't know the subject, or have a problem with public speaking, don't! But we should be encouraging MORE people to get involved with the media. And where does a pro get their start? Do they just wake up one morning with a perfect spiel? Not hardly. We have some real professionals on our side, but it is more than likely that most learned by watching themselves portrayed as a "bubba" a few times and learned from their mistakes.

The media has the upper hand in these things and will not make it easy on you. They will not know, or care, what your areas of expertise might be and will have their own anti-gun agenda. Watch the practiced speaker and you will notice that a negative question can be answered with a positive statement supporting pro-gun views and experience. Watch the inexperienced speaker, too. You and they may have to take your lumps on the way to becoming that practiced speaker.

But you and I in the gunrights arena are used to that! Aren't we?

The media seldom reports the many productive and positive uses of a firearm. And I need say very little to you who have tried to get some publicity for a firearms sporting event. Comparing that to pulling teeth wouldn't do it justice. But we must keep up the effort, and that will require more pro-gun activists getting involved in the learning process. They won't all be perfect, but I am confident that all will be pleased with their participation in the battle for our Second Amendment Rights.

So I do not fault the beginning speakers so much for the positions they have to take. Under the circumstances, many do very well, and it is a mark of courage when they undertake the chore for a second time.

One option in preparation is to get more active in promoting your sporting or club events. Send press releases to all your local media. If they happen to call, you will be talking about something you are familiar and confident with. That is good practice. Try writing letters to the editor of your local paper on gun or crime fighting issues. Again, learning to put your thoughts together in a logical manner BEFORE someone sticks a microphone in your face is a real good idea.

And then you, too, can end up the subject of an HCI fundraising letter and be accused of plotting to kill Sarah. Actually happened to me as a result of a misquote of a misquote. I didn't send any money to them on that one......

Leroy Pyle is a career police officer,
NRA Training Counselor & Instructor, and Internet Activist WebMaster, &

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I now think the only way to control handgun use is to prohibit the guns. And the only way to do that is to change the Constitution. — M. Gartner, then President of NBC News, USA Today, January 16, 1992, pg. A9

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