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Ninety Seven Percent
Epistemic status: gun policy fiction based on that embarrassingly awful 97% zoom call yesterday
BJ Campbell stumbles into the 97 Percent conference with a glass of bourbon in hand and takes the podium, two cubes of ice bouncing against the sides of the hotel bar tumbler like fat children on a trampoline. Apparently smartly dressed when he left his hotel room several hours prior, he now appears disheveled and disorderly, a shirt tail half untucked, glasses crookedly glued to his nose, a wry smile on his face betraying how much alcohol he’s imbibed attempting to stomach the proceedings going on around him. He crosses the stage, gives a wink and a nod to Dr. Michael Siegel who he interviewed for RECOIL Magazine several years prior, and assumes a position behind the microphone.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the 97 Percent panel, thank you for letting me participate in the conference today as a representative of the gun community. I appreciate and endorse your stated mission of reducing gun deaths in America by conducting original research to identify common ground, to change the conversation around gun safety to include gun owners, and to leverage technology to make our communities safer. All of these goals are goals that the gun community shares with you.
“But I must tell you something very important.
“I have never heard a more delusional, more dishonest stream of bad faith bullshit as I have just heard. You all should be ashamed of yourselves.”
Campbell pauses in a failed effort to straighten his tie. His eyes sweep the crowd, which has grown incredibly silent at this brash opener, but his gaze then then turns back to the panel table and lands hard on the former panelists in an unblinking stare.
“(Former) representative Walsh, threatening to cancel gun owners credit cards does not include gun owners into the conversation in good faith. If this organization actually believed in their stated goals, you would be henceforth banned. Mr. Moulton, gushing over Nancy Pelosi’s efforts to indiscriminately attack us does not promote your stated goals. If this organization actually believed in their stated goals, you too would be henceforth banned.
“Everyone here involved in the Republican bashing circle jerk twenty minutes ago alienates every gun owner who votes guns first, because you have given us no other options. Banned. When you say ‘they’re going to dig in their heels and watch the house burn down,’ (editorial note: real phrase from yesterday’s zoom call) you expose yourself as someone who doesn’t understand the most basic mathematics of the situation, which is that gun homicide rate was basically flat for a decade and basically half what it used to be in the 1990s. Banned. Keeping any of you in this organization turns the entire project into nothing more than an expensive astroturfing op.
“Yes, you don’t shoot deer with an AR-15. No, guns are not only for shooting deer. The majority of guns, including every single handgun, are for shooting people. I’m sorry you didn’t realize that until now, but you’re going to have to realize that if you want to work with gun owners. Don’t understand that? Banned.
“No, there is not overwhelming support for the stuff you’re spewing, and saying that is completely bad faith. Banned. The only person in this entire room entering the discussion in good faith is Dr. Michael Siegel, and the only way he’s going to get any traction is after every single one of you other asshats is banned from the table.”
Dr. Siegel, sequestered to a far corner of the panelist table, begins to get noticeably uncomfortable. He didn’t ask for this. He’s a researcher, noble, intelligent, and naive, who discovered through mathematical analysis that there are a scant few things that move the needle at all on gun deaths. His public health policy resume is impressive, including speaking before congress during the Big Tobacco trials, a stint at the CDC, and residencies at Boston University and Tufts. His dedication to truth, his talent with mathematics, and his belief that public policy can be both sane and productive brought him to this conference, but the seating chart puts the nerds in the corner. Bloomberg wants the pundits front and center here. Siegel too straightens his tie, reflexively, hoping to avoid attention from the other panelists.
Campbell continues his speech, his vocal inflections approaching the punch of a Jessie Jackson sermon or a Bill Burr standup routine.
“You do not get to say “nobody is coming for your guns” when Moulton is in the room. Ban him.
“Saying ‘we know we can’t ban assault weapons yet but we will as soon as we can’ is (1) not the way to endear yourselves to gun owners, and (2) diametrically opposite to your ‘we’re not coming for your guns’ catch phrase. Your recent legislative efforts, should they have worked, would have turned 12% of the entire United States population into instant felons. That’s how you intend to build trust with the gun community? Really? Anyone who supported that law - banned.
“We don’t want to take your guns, but also we totally will as soon as we can.”
“Wait, why do you think we want to take your guns?”
Banned. Ban you all and put Dr. Siegel in charge of the whole thing, or just come out and admit you’re a well funded astroturfing operation.”
Siegel’s eyes begin to scan the exits, complicated vector mathematics unfolding in his mind, determining how he’s going to escape from this awful predicament with the greatest velocity and least chance of having to speak to anyone important. He did his best earlier in the conference. He presented the data. He told the other panelists that banning assault weapons was mathematically stupid, in as many words, but they didn’t listen. He explained how a gun purchase license could be packaged as a way to skip the NICS check entirely to gun owners, and to allow peer to peer transfers without government oversight, and to eliminate any sort of registry. They weren’t paying attention. He did his job. The 97 Percent policy ask was based on his work. In some ways, this entire thing is his baby, but the panelists ignored him. Now BJ Campbell’s half drunken rant is smearing that in their faces, and that’s not going to go well for Michael at the after party.
He checks his phone to see if he can move his flight tomorrow up.
“Just look at Dr. Siegel’s slides for Christ’s sake!” Campbell continues, punching through the PowerPoint laptop skipping over whatever Rob Pincus was on about to try and find Siegel’s portion of the presentation.
“It says right there that ninety-seven percent of gun owners don’t agree with universal background checks under any condition. Less than twenty percent do. This is literally the crux of the discussion he and I had on RECOIL TV back in 2020. Most of us would love some way to be sure that when we sell a gun on Craigslist we’re not selling it to a gangbanger or a meth junkie, but none of us want peer to peer sales banned except through an FFL, and none of us want a gun registry. Every time you people bring universal background check laws to the table you pretend they’re popular but they’re not. Michael knows this because he did the math, and he showed it to you, and you ignored him! You dolts! Your organization’s entire name is a lie.”
The tension in the room rises with every word, the silence only broken by the Brady Campaign donors in the audience shifting their feet anxiously. They too begin scanning for the nearest exit. Jaundiced yellow hotel light casts through the chandeliers of the hotel event space, and the carpet pattern begins to take on an ominous veneer, like a scene out of the movie portrayal of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. BJ continues, punching up another slide.
“See? Look at this! Your whole official policy platform, which is based on Dr. Siegel’s research, is based on trying to bring gun owners to the table by not pushing stuff that we hate and that doesn’t work. Look at his slide!”
“And yet you stand up here for three hours talking about how you’re going to seize all the AR-15s as soon as you get a chance. Not only is that an obvious bait and switch, it’s not even a good one because you telegraphed it right here on stage. I’m not even embarrassed for you, to be honest, you’re just dumb. I’m more embarrassed for Michael for getting hoodwinked into participating in this charade at all.”
Campbell punches backwards through the slide order trying to draw attention to Dr. Siegel’s work, his right hand on the laptop and left firmly gripping his bourbon tumbler, a psychological totem grounding him through the awkwardness of the conference. The deeply liberal deeply antigun crowd stares slack jawed at the spectacle.
“Like, okay,” he continues, “if you’re going into this in good faith, let’s take a look at red flag laws. We don’t necessarily hate red flag laws, we just don’t want them being abused and weaponized against us by squirrely cops. If you want us to believe you’re doing this in good faith, how about fixing the ones you’ve already passed to have the provisions in Michael’s slide?”
“Or this one! Any state you guys try and run your universal background check garbage through breaks every bullet on this slide. If you want to show us you’re approaching us in good faith, fix this garbage in places you already control!”
“You can probably sell your permit idea to gun owners if you do the stuff on this other slide here, but you never do that, do you? It’s always a bait and switch, where you claim your ideas have popular support but you’re just looking for an opportunity to stab gun owners in the back.”
“Show us you’re approaching us in good faith by passing that in California and New York, places you already control. Show us. Prove it. You can’t because you don’t actually want the things that Michael has identified as common ground, do you? This whole thing is a front, isn’t it?”
BJ’s face begins to take on a slight red pallor as his blood pressure rises, sweat glinting from his forehead under the sickly yellow hotel lighting. The crowd shifts in their chairs. Some have begun to mumble that this isn’t what they came here for, wondering who let the crazy person in the room. None of them wanted this. They came here to acquire virtue within their tribe, to gather stories to tell at their blue cocktail parties about how they’re part of the cause, that they’re changing the world for the better by participating in a new vector to attack those awful AR-15 owning hicks. Who let the hick on stage? Someone should be sacked. BJ takes another sip, sets the glass down, grips the podium with both hands like a helm of a B-17 bomber on final approach, and drops the bomb.
“And we also need to have a serious discussion about racism.”
“You’re mostly liberals, right? A lot of you marched with BLM in 2020, right? You know what systemic racism is, don’t you? It’s when a law or policy that has no apparent racist intent, when applied in combination with other societal factors, produces a disproportionately bad result to a particular race. You ever heard of the school to prison pipeline? Ever heard about New York City stop and frisk? Where the NYC cops were throwing black males ages 16 to 24 up against walls without any probable cause and searching them? You do realize what they were searching for, don’t you? Guns! The most glaring example of systemic racism this century was because of a gun control law.
“I realize that most of you have probably never met a black person unless he’s some sort of token, and none of you attended an inner city public school. I did. Here’s an unfortunate truth you need to process. In modern urban black culture, black boys fight. They resolve their grievances in an honor culture because they can’t trust the authority to resolve them, and honor cultures resolve differences with duels. Always have. If you roll this part of your platform out, here’s what’s going to happen. Black boys are going to be the ones with violent misdemeanors, therefore black men are the ones that aren’t going to have permits, therefore the cops are going to throw them up against walls looking for guns. You have to fix that somehow in your proposal, because that’s going to happen. It’s going to be NYC Stop and Frisk all over again. Fix it.”
One millennial seated near the front frantically checks her phone to see if she still has ACAB on her Twitter profile. The murmurs in the room have risen to levels such that if not for the PA system, BJ wouldn’t be heard at all. A general revolt among the conference goers begins to brew. Several people stand up to leave. Dr. Siegel packs his laptop into his briefcase and gets ready to execute his egress. BJ continues his rant unabashedly.
“This entire organization was supposed to be about approaching gun owners in good faith, but to be honest, we don’t even care about you. We don’t need you. We’ve already won, and you don’t even know it. We’re winning in public opinion polls, we’re winning in minority communities, and we’re growing. We added 8.4 million new gun owners in 2020 during the riots, and 5.4 million more new gun owners in 2021. One in ten gun owners in the country bought their first gun in the past two years. And those new owners were disproportionately women and minorities by comparison to prior sales trends, not to mention disproportionately liberal. The Brady Campaign’s original goal was to ban all handguns, and now you’re up against a wall and can’t even ban AR-15s. In 1986 the number of states with a constitutional carry law was one, now half the country can carry a pistol without a permit. Twenty five states! And after the supreme court’s very broad Bruen decision we don’t need you at all.
“The time for good faith was a decade ago, and you pissed that away. If you want us at the table with you at all, the very first thing you must do is bring something to the table for us to look at. You’re the losers, not us, so it’s on you to make us an offer. Gather up the hundreds of gun laws that don’t work, and offer to repeal every single one of them as part of the deal.”
Conference goers frantically clear the event space, fleeing this bourbon infused fulmination to preserve their world view, lest their dreams in the future weeks be haunted by visions of black rifles around every corner. That forty percent of the houses in their quiet subdivision have guns in them has never crossed their minds, and they struggle to grasp the scope of what they’ve just heard. They never realized that outside of New York and California eight percent of the population has concealed carry permits, that one out of every 13 people in their grocery store has a gun. Dr. Siegel heads for the exit, scrolling down the Delta app on his phone to book the next flight to Boston. The rest of the panelists follow suit.
“So do you want to make a deal or what?”
Nobody responds. Ice cubes rise from the bottom of the bourbon tumbler surrounded by a thin layer of sweet brown liquid, Galapagos-like in their solitary isolation. The room is empty. Campbell stares at the empty chairbacks, their plastic reverberating his own words back to him. An echo chamber of one.