Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Defying Stereotypes

Stereotypes are funny things. People rant on and on about them and how they're prejudicial and shouldn't be formed ... yet they so often harbor their own, and laugh at the exaggerated stereotypes that make up the fodder for late-night comedians.

For example, an overwhelming stereotype right now (it's more of a paradigm) is the idea that President Bush is stupid, and near-universally despised. Joking about him, lampooning his behavior and openly deriding him is pretty typical conversation in politics. Now, this isn't about Bush, that's not where I'm going with this. I'm just noting that, in theory, people eschew stereotypes, but in practice, there are all kinds of stereotypes that are considered acceptable.

Enter me. To a lot of people, I've suddenly become "the gun guy." People I talk to online? "How's the gun thing going?" People I don't see too often on campus? "How's the gun thing going?"

Sure, it's only natural for people to go back to a point of common identification to relate to someone they don't know very well, so I can't pass too much blame. It just gets a little old after a while.

Case in point: I was speaking with a leader of a violence prevention group recently and was explaining some of the "better violence prevention through legalization of concealed carry on campus" efforts. Afterwards, I made a comment about the memorabilia for a noted stage play that decorated the office. The person was surprised, and (perhaps caught off-guard) even mentioned that my interest or knowledge in a theatrical production seemed incongruous with being a "gun guy."

Arg.

I can't complain too much. After all, I played with toy guns as a little boy, watched reruns of western serials on TV all the time, and eventually graduated to my first .22 rifle that my grandfather gave me. I got my first handgun a short week or two after turning 21, and then early this summer I purchased a Glock. I have the concealed carry permit, I've taken an additional class or two, and I've shot competitively (managing to outshoot even a few of the more experienced shooters). I have been researching, documenting and defending armed self-defense for years, I'm a board member for a nationwide gun rights organization, I've personally met (and am now known by) many of the key players from both sides of the debate, and I've enjoyed contact with the foremost pro-gun lobby, the NRA.

There's only so much I can do to mitigate the "gun guy" image. And I suppose the fact that I wear a "cowboy hat" doesn't help.

Still in all, I'm not just about guns. I am not constrained to that topic ... or even politics itself. I engage in politics because it's arguably where human beings can have the most widespread impact for good on the most people. And, because it's fun. But just because someone is avid about something doesn't mean they want to talk about it 24/7. I think a political science professor whose class I recently graduated would probably agree; my car was on the way back to his office, so we usually wound up walking together for a bit, and while politics came up sometimes, mostly the talk centered on good movies.

I even sing now and again in the car.

So, beware stereotyping, especially those "okay" subconscious ones.

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