OSD 239: Quick, be normal
You’re accepted when people don’t fight you, but you’re normal when they don’t notice you.
Imagine a topless woman.
“I’m way ahead of you”, some people just thought.
Hang on, there’s more. Imagine that you’re the topless woman. And now imagine yourself in the following situations:
Alone in your room, putting on a shirt in the morning
In the locker room at your gym
At a beach in the south of France
At a public pool in the US
Walking into a grocery store in the US
Walking into a grocery store in Saudi Arabia
If you did a good job putting yourself in that topless lady’s sandals, you probably started getting nervous somewhere between #2 and #4. By #5 you’re sweating, and by #6 you’re in prison. What changes as you move down that spectrum is that toplessness goes from being unnoticed, to accepted, to aberrant, to forbidden.
Unnoticed: Turn on the TV in France and you’ll see topless women in shampoo commercials. This is the ultimate in normalization. When something is fully normalized, it’s not even accepted — it’s so unremarkable that people don’t even notice they’re accepting it. It doesn’t occur to them that things could be any other way.
Accepted: At this stage of normalization, you won’t get pushback but you might get stares. Here in Austin, Texas the law is that anywhere men can be topless, women can be topless too. That generates an annual tradition of explainers pointing out that it’s not unusual for women to be topless at Barton Springs Pool, a popular summertime swimming hole. That’s the “accepted” stage of normalization — people notice you, but they don’t mind you.
Aberrant: At this stage you haven’t yet achieved escape velocity to normalization. People may or may not stop you, but you will freak them out.
Forbidden: This is the opposite of normalization. You are fully stigmatized and actively stopped.
The gun rights crowd’s ambition is to achieve normalization and not have people look askance when you carry a gun, buy body armor, or order 10,000 rounds of 5.56 because you saw it drop back below 35¢/round for the first time since the beforetimes. That seems like a compelling goal, but the truth is it’s not ambitious enough. Real normalization is when you do all that stuff and people don’t just tolerate it, they don’t even notice it.
You can apply the framework above to the gun space.
Things that are at the Unnoticed stage: guns in action movies and in music, YouTube gun celebrities
Things that are at the Accepted stage: in most of the country, concealed carry and ownership of ARs and modern tactical gear
Things that are at the Aberrant stage: open carry in most of the country. In a few urban segments of the country, the things in the Accepted stage above are still in the Aberrant stage.
Things that are at the Forbidden stage: interstate sale of handguns, noncompliance with the NFA
Here’s how to transition between the stages:
Forbidden→Aberrant: this requires a change in laws. Civil disobedience can help, but laying the groundwork typically requires a multi-year campaign of political and cultural influence.
Aberrant→Accepted: this requires first and foremost that gun owners be smart. This is the transition that people fail to make because they allow themselves to be guided by what feels good instead of what delivers results. See more on this in “OSD 65: Diving headfirst through the Overton window” and “OSD 176: Don’t force people to have an opinion”, which get into the hit-and-miss history of open carry protests.
Accepted→Unnoticed: congrats, you made it to Accepted. The next step is simple: keep doing what you’re doing, and act less and less like it’s a thing. Instead of normalizing by jumping up and down saying, “I’m normal”, just … be normal. Do your thing with the same tone as if you’re talking about your car hobby. Manifest normalcy.
There’s good news in all this. In most of the country, almost all of modern gun culture has made it to the Accepted stage. So instead of needing to break past Aberrant, we have the comparatively simple task of navigating the Accepted→Unnoticed transition.
And even in subcultures where guns are still Aberrant, the narrative is shifting such that elites have more and more social permission to support (or at least not actively disdain) gun rights. See more on that in “OSD 110: What smart people are supposed to think” and “OSD 163: Preference laundering”.
So the prescription is easy. Gun culture should keep doing what it’s doing, but over time make it less and less of a thing. Wade into the mainstream in a matter-of-fact way, like it didn’t occur to you that it could be controversial. Soon it won’t be.
This week’s links
Stephen Gutowski’s (of The Reload) grandparents’ farm bordered the police’s search area for Danilo Cavalcante. Here Stephen memorably recounts driving out to the farm with an assortment of guns to serve as his grandparents’ sentry while the manhunt was underway.
On his podcast, Gladwell has been doing a six-part series about guns. By his own description he’s certainly not a gun rights supporter, so his summary of his interview with the VPC’s Josh Sugarmann is interesting:
In the previous episode of this series, I talked about the absurdity of the stories that gun lovers tell themselves. This is the same kind of absurdity, only from the other side. This is someone just making stuff up in order to rile us all up, and try and win a policy argument. Now, I understand why Sugarmann is doing it. He wants to find a crack in the armor of the gun lobby, and he thinks assault rifles are his way in. And by the way, I’m completely sympathetic to the overall cause. I’m a Canadian, for goodness sake. I don’t believe anyone should have guns at all. But this is the problem with the way we talk about guns, right? That in the middle of an ongoing national tragedy, we can’t bring ourselves to have an honest conversation about guns. Both sides would rather just make things up.
Back in 2015, Gladwell also gave this thoughtful talk about school shootings where he talks about the topic for ten minutes, gives a convincing argument for the causes, and never mentions guns once.
ATF’s form to comment on their proposed “Definition of ‘Engaged in the Business’ as a Dealer in Firearms” rule
Submit your feedback to them during the public notice period. The proposed rule would require an FFL of anybody who sells a gun with the intent to “predominantly earn a profit”, which would criminalize millions of today’s private sales.
Essay on safety through centralization vs. decentralization.
A provocative and well-argued piece about how gun rights may be necessary for freedom, but they are far from sufficient.
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Gun apparel you’ll want to wear out of the house.
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