It’s popular these days to bash social media and blame Twitter, Tik Tok and Facebook for all of society’s ills. The fact of the matter is, social media is just a platform. All it does is allow people to show what’s really in their hearts—good, bad and ugly—to the world.
And there’s a lot of good, bad and ugly related to firearms floating around the internet and social media. The overwhelming majority of gun owners are great people going about their business safely and respectfully—so how do so many cringey photos and stupid arguments end up online? Here are some tips to help you steer clear of the bad and the ugly and make sure that you’re part of the good: serving as a gun ambassador online who helps our community look like the wonderful place it is.
1. Observe the Four Rules in All Photos
The No. 1 thing you can do to be a good gun ambassador online is to avoid the No. 1 sin of gun photos: the dreaded finger-on-the-trigger photo. You know your finger should be kept off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot, and this obviously also applies when you’re posing for a photo with a firearm.
Of course, you need to follow the rest of the gun safety rules at all times, including in photos. That means you need to be mindful of where the gun is pointed, but beyond that, be mindful of where it looks like the gun is pointed. Because photos are two-dimensional, a flattening effect is in play that can make it look like a barrel is pointed at a person when in real life, it was actually pointed at a safe angle. This happens all the time in hunting trophy photos. It’s great that the angle was safe, but if it doesn’t appear that way in the photo, don’t post it.
2. Make Photos Respectful
In general, post photos that demonstrate responsible and respectable firearms use. This advice gets violated in lots of ways, but one example is hunters who take sloppy photos that show excess blood or downright idiotic poses that maybe seem funny at the time but don’t play well on social media later. You can read more about taking great photos in another article, but for starters, tuck in (or cut off) the deer’s tongue, try to wipe or rinse off blood, and strike a respectful pose behind or beside the animal. You just took something’s life to feed your family. You can be happy about that, but this isn’t the time for jokes and gross innuendos.
3. Engage in Healthy Debate
You don’t need to shy away from “sensitive topics” online or on social media. Healthy discussions and debates are good, and you can learn a lot by sharing views with others—even those you don’t agree with. Just do so in a calm, even tone and rely on facts and logic to make your points. There are times when emotion enters the equation, but remember, when it comes to gun ownership and hunting, facts (and history) are on our side, and you shouldn’t be afraid to share that.
The best part about a good, sensible, well-conducted debate on social media where everyone sticks to the topic and presents their arguments clearly and respectfully is that you never know who is watching but not commenting. You might win over a lot of fence-sitters you didn’t even know were there, especially if your comments are professional and well-reasoned.
4. But Don’t Argue with Trolls
We’ve all gotten into an argument with someone who has no interest in playing by the rules, changing anyone’s mind, or seeing things from a different point of view. Trolls only want to stir up chaos or “win” at all costs, and they’ll say anything, no matter how outrageous, to get a reaction from you.
Playwright George Bernard Shaw is credited with saying “Never wrestle with pigs. You both get dirty, and the pig likes it.” And that’s about what it’s like engaging in an online argument with someone who isn’t interested in a fair, civil and honest debate. You’ll end up frustrated and the longer it goes, the more likely you are to say something you’ll regret that will paint firearms ownership in a bad light. All bystanders will see is a gun owner acting foolish.
5. Know When to Pipe Down
My number one pet peeve on social media is the “You’re doing it wrong!” comment. You know the one: You post a picture of your friend’s first time shooting and someone says “tell her to straighten her arm” or “she should lean into it more” or otherwise critiques her form. Come on! Unless it’s a clear safety violation (like the aforementioned finger on the trigger), consider how your well-meant advice may read. She’s probably really proud of herself and excited about her first trip to the range and you just criticized it because things didn’t look exactly the way you thought they should. Do you think that’s going to encourage her—and those watching-but-not-commenting folks—to try again?
“Know when to pipe down” also applies to discussions and debates. If you’re dealing with a troll as discussed above, back out. The only way to win that game is to refuse to play. Even if you’re in a thoughtful and reasoned debate, when the discussion has run its course, call it quits.
Why It All Matters
Why is it important to be a good gun ambassador online? I don’t have to tell you that politicians and the mainstream media go out of their way to paint gun owners as ignorant hicks, dangerous rubes or maniacs ready to snap at a moment’s notice. We know that nothing could be further from the truth, but if we allow that narrative to be told without countering it with reality, people who don’t know better will start to believe it. And then it’s a very short jump to additional gun control and the erosion of our Second Amendment rights, among others.
It’s important we show the world that firearms ownership is absolutely normal and safe. The way we do that is not by shying away from the subject altogether (although being “the gray man” is a valid choice), but by going about our business online, including in gun circles, portraying firearms ownership in a positive light and treating everyone we come in contact with respectfully.