A Glimpse at Gun Owners in the Age of Trayvon Martin

This Times story about what attendees of the National Rifle Association’s annual convention in St. Louis think about the Trayvon Martin case is very much worth a read:

Eager to explain the benefits of carrying a concealed weapon, hikers discussed how they feared bandits more than bears on the trail. Aging men rattled off hypothetical situations requiring self-defense; the details varied, but all involved some version of a younger, more muscular aggressor.

Yet with the gun lobby gathering just days after George Zimmerman was arrested in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager in Florida, there was a new potency to such contingencies as many gun owners wait for more evidence about the killing to emerge.

“People here are definitely thinking and talking about it,” said Terrence Mayfield, 61, who has a permit to carry a concealed firearm in Florida. “This whole thing rests on who threw the first punch. Either the gun saved Zimmerman’s life or we had a cowboy, someone who thought because he had a gun things could escalate.”

There’s obviously still a massive cultural divide about guns in this country. I grew up in Massachusetts, and while I’m not sure where it came from, I developed the idea that guns were capital-B Bad, that it was inconceivable that they could have any point or that any decent person could like them or want to be around them.

So when I left the bubble and met people, often from the Midwest, who were 1) nice and 2) not staunchly anti-gun, I was a bit surprised, and I have to say my stance has softened a bit in the intervening years.

None of this is to say I’m not staunchly for bans on assault weapons and extended ammo clips, etcetera, and it goes without saying that the NRA’s legislative role has been nothing but pernicious. I do think, however, that this is one of the very few areas where there is some truth to the old, tired “liberals don’t get it” line.

Jesse Singal

Jesse Singal is a former opinion writer for The Boston Globe and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. He is currently a master's student at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Policy. Follow him on Twitter at @jessesingal.