While standing, loosing my tie, and waiting for my turn at the firing line today, purposefully showing off the new suede, brown leather, 1911 molded holster I had gotten as a present from my wife, I could not help but take a second to look over at the people standing inside this gun range, a range and a group of people that had morphed so dramatically since I came to this club as a kid.
Coming to this shooting club with my father thirty years ago, the majority of those who attended were Vietnam-era combat vets, cops, and wannabe’s, well into their 50’s and 60’s. The club itself then was not much more than an old, tan, metal fab building with concrete walls lining the sides and bottom towards the target area of the range. Old, hand drawn pulleys moved the now dated FBI targets back and forth so the shooters never needed to leave the metal tables folded in front of their firing position. The smells and people who were in it would remind me of an old bowling alley, mostly functional, dated and dirty in the dark corners. The topics of conversation around the glass bottle soda machine and display cases were a mixture of both farming implements, cop stories, and the far-right, politically-minded subjects with the occasional racist comment tossed in, commonplace in a mostly white middle-class town in the Midwest.
It is amazing how much has changed in such a short time.
With the rising crescendo of ISIS attacks and the deaths of those in the West at the hands of Islamic terrorism, it is no wonder that many below the age of 30 are turning towards the “pro” column regarding the 2nd Amendment and doing so in record droves. Expecting the direct opposite effect the “standard lefties” within academia and government, thinking that rises in liberal education would lead to rises in liberal ideology, seem shocked and surprised that the very people who were sent off to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq and came back and got their undergraduate degrees, are now arming themselves and doing so as quickly as humanly possible.
Just like the same reaction a new mother has whose child is just a few short years away from being enrolled in a public school, the same type of location where horrific shootings that happened in Newtown or a variety of other campuses across the nation. This same wide-eyed woman who now looks up at the Gun-Free Zone sign planted on the front lawn of the kindergarten remembering the hundreds of lives lost to these areas are balking, and liberals wonder why she is suddenly looking to homeschool her toddler and is actively packing a Glock 19 in her purse.
This really should not be a surprise to anyone, or in any way difficult to figure out why the millennials are doing it en masse. You cannot teach a person to go against what they already know to be true through either experience or instinct. Your instinct tells you to survive and the environment around you through experience presents you danger, therefore any attempt to prove otherwise to a person who sees that danger is going to be futile and ridiculous in their minds.
Millennials on the right and your standard libertarians get it and are not interested in being someone’s victim or an unfortunate statistic. Whether we are discussing terrorism or the insanity of liberal/statist policies of trying to teach men not to rape, or the fact that colleges are ripe for a predator from either inside or outside campus to grab a young woman walking around unprotected, the notions of the liberal left to combat violence both here and abroad would be nearly laughable if they were not dangerously stupid.
What is difficult to grasp at times is why millennials, especially among the conservative and libertarian spectrum, just haven’t been as vocal about gun issues as the previous generations. Generation X tried to do everything at least once and make sure everyone knew they were doing it, but the millennials have a tendency to be more covert about their views regarding guns. Trying to pry a millennial’s viewpoint out over the 2nd Amendment is akin at times to twisting candy out of the pudgy fingers of a four-year-old. Not as easy as it seems in theory, and as a researcher in Cultural Anthropology, it is definitely something that has to be finessed out at best.
While doing my undergraduate years ago, one of my projects was to write on the rising gun ownership among people 30 and younger, especially among the college-educated.
Thinking this was a straightforward assignment, I prepared interviews for several demographics based on race, sex, sexual orientation, political affiliation, 21 to 24, 25 to 27 and 28 to 30, and education level. The areas I took most of my sampling from were in Southern Missouri, Western Tennessee, Western Kentucky, Southern Illinois, and Northern Arkansas. Basically sitting directly on top of the buckle of the Bible Belt and in an area that was very traditionally conservative, to say the least.
What I found towards the end of my sampling is that I had very little data to actually propose, research, or publish with for my department, and how quickly those questioned became tight-lipped when it came to gun ownership. Needless to say, I found this shocking as I had grown up in this very area among people (granted, older than the age of 30) who would be more than willing to not only let you peruse their entire gun collection, but can give you a story about each and every one of them.
This lack of discussion out of millennials I found rather unnerving.
Many people simply refused to talk to me, and of the ones that did the majority would only do so privately face to face, and never on the phone or internet. Of what I could discern, which was pathetically small, the highest gun ownership among individuals in the below 30 range who were actually students on campus were not straight ,white, conservative males. Surprisingly, white females and members of the LGBT community, older than the age of 25, and regardless of political affiliation were the ones willing to admit that they did own at least one firearm, and of this group nearly a fifth carried it on their person at all times, even on campus.
The highest numbers in a given set came from non-traditional students who were mothers with children older than five and who were also former military. Now this is not to say that white males or anyone else in this given population set did not own or carry firearms, as many did admit they do, but statistically, within this paltry excuse for research I found out two absolute concrete things.
The younger you are as a conservative, the least likely you will talk to anyone who looks like a cop about what guns you own.
That among those under the age of 30, the greater the understanding of the possibility of being hurt or killed in an area where they legally could not protect themselves the more this group was willing to break the law and arm themselves anyway, regardless what the consequences.
Now it is my contention that some of this tight-lippedness boils down to just being a bit more tech-savvy than the last generation and tending to keep a majority of human contact online and not in person.
However, this same attitude and understanding has led millennials to know what they say in the chat forums and on social media can and will bite them in the butt later. While Gen X threw caution to the wind and seemed to care less about who had anything to say about their actions, millennials have watched one too many Cop Block videos, have had their “counter culture” news piped directly into their computer desk stations 24/7 since they owned their first computer and are a bit more paranoid than their older siblings, with a very good reason.
Brandon Raub, a combat vet in his early 20’s, posted some song lyrics on a Facebook page in 2012 and before he knew what happened to him came face to face with being held in protective custody for a week straight without offering a single threat to anyone. His case and several dozen others have cemented in the minds of middle-class millennials, regardless of race or political ideology that perhaps some far-right commentators who argue a conspiracy theory mindset may not be as crazy as they have been made out to be.
Government has not in any way tried to alleviate these fears either, (especially in the last eight years) as many combat veterans, 35 and younger have had their 2nd Amendment rights taken away through administrative action if they are seeking mental health counseling through the Veteran Administration.
The Obama administration also seems bent on attacking the 2nd Amendment at every turn, through both executive action and pushing Congress to enact legislation. This as well as any number of YouTube videos one can find dealing with New World Order motifs create the very plausible ambiance that paranoia over this subject is a viable reaction to what they are seeing, and by and large are millennials are keeping their mouths shut.
Does this mean that millennials are more conspiracy-minded regarding the government and gun ownership than the previous generations? I would argue yes, conditionally, based on the sheer amount of converts over to the libertarian and “An-Cap” way of thinking, but it is not necessarily a bad thing. While they have learned that they can argue online over a variety of given topics regarding the gun debate, the vast majority prefer to do so behind an assumed name or “sock” on closed Facebook or Reddit page then do it out in the open for anyone to see.
Some of this also boils down to peer pressure out of the left who have made gun ownership unfashionable and equated it with either a racist or uneducated attitude. Therefore the paranoia over whether anyone actually knows that they own a firearm works well hand-in-hand with their capability to simply smile and nod whenever a left-leaning person starts screaming their opinion on gun control in their presence.
I have found that most millennials are absolute experts at the smile and nod.
However, things are changing. Gone are the older, retired members at the ranges and now a new breed has taken over. Gun clubs now have baristas, carpeted floors, comfortable seating, private rooms, child day care, and individualized classes on everything from gun rights to rape prevention.
Membership is no longer the white, middle-class male exclusively, as women, minorities, members of the LGBT community and anyone else you can think of have been joining up. Millennials are now putting themselves in a position to organize groups on social media, where they have meet ups, preparedness drills, classes, and are beginning to connect one another face-to-face at the range.
With so many former combat vets in their ranks as well as their wives, husbands and friends these clubs have expanded and those who are coming are demanding more than just outdated ranges, outdated equipment, and outdated thinking. Business models have changed to accommodate the latest generation who are not as interested in the biggest and most powerful weapon they can find, but what is the lightest and most effective that can be carried comfortably.
Handgun models are now multi-colored in neon pinks, greens, blues and customized with every conceivable aftermarket part you can think of. Gun manufacturers aren’t stupid. They know they can sell a turquoise 9mm to a person who wants to have it match their handbag, as well as sell them the bag, too.
In short, as I look around the range I mentioned before, I see massive change. I can see a 23-year-old black woman to my left carrying a yellow “Hello Kitty” diaper bag with a holster cut out on its back side for her 9mm subcompact , or to my right the 25-year-old bearded young man with a neck scarf, Star Wars t-shirt, and AR15 decked out in radiation, “zombie” neon green.
Due to this, I may feel a bit antiquated with my gray tie, white shirt and 1911 auto, but I have a little bit of a smile on my face. While this generation has not been as active in the gun debate openly, they have most certainly armed themselves more than Generation X ever did. So perhaps their lack of vocal opposition is not as essential as the fact they are actually on the firing line shooting.
To put the finest point on it, ultimately what this generation actually does might be more important than what they say. Here is hoping that translates to other political areas as well down the road.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.