There’s an idea in NLP that is essentially “you cannot not communicate.” Put simply, everything you do communicates something. I tend to add more cynically “whether you like it or not” because people rarely realize what they say.
Recently, due to a series of tragic issues, gun ownership, crime, and safety is foremost in the minds of many people. Two gentlemen who decided to walk around with assault rifles in Portland, said they were doing so in the hope of educating people on the Second Amendment. This is legal for them due to their proper certifications, though they didn’t seem to share police concerns over how their presence was generating 911 calls and concerns. Needless to say a lot of people were concerned to see two people carrying guns around and called the police.
Of the many discussions over guns, crime, etc. communication is often ignored. This is a prime example of it.
A gun communicates. It is a recognized tool for effectively dealing death, and thus sends a message that one has that power.
The person carrying a gun also says something as it gives context to the force. In the hands of a police officer, a friend, or a soldier in your unit, it may be a source of comfort to know they are armed. In the hands of complete strangers, it is not comforting, because you don’t know them or their intentions.
Carrying guns publicly is rare for most people, and seeing it is unusual (and perhaps unacceptable). Thus you have two unknown people, carrying guns, which is considered socially unusual or inappropriate. It is, in short, armed people you don’t know doing something that would be seen as, frankly, weird.
Finally, this occurs after various acts of violence have been in the news, all involving guns. Indeed, there was a noteable shooting last month in Oregon. Thus The public display of guns by strangers is occurring around people who are understandably edgy.
In short, armed strangers taking the unusual action of carrying weapons in a time of concern. People are going to assume they might start something, and quite understandably so.
Thus, the two men behind this presented an image that was at the very best grossly insensitive, at at worse one of menace. Whatever actions they took or didn’t took matter little; the communications they made were going to cause alarm.
Fortunately, it involved calling the police or hiding in case they got violent. An Oregon paper notes that they may have been fortunate they themselves didn’t provoke a violence response. Bad communication can lead to violence, as we all know too well.
Their reaction shows a voluntary or involuntary lack of awareness of how people would react to them. If there was any intent to educate people about the second amendment, it failed, needless to say. On the other hand, it seems what was communicated was that these gentlemen didn’t understand or care that they’d cause alarm. Not a way to have people appreciate your arguments and stances.
Or to be blunt, what they did was foolish and potentially dangerous, and what they largely communicated is “we seem insensitive, socially unmoored, and are armed.” Certainly if they intended to speak up against further gun safety, they produced the opposite reaction. I imagine someone is considering reviewing their permits.
We’re going to be talking about guns, safety, and crime for awhile. I expect we’re going to be seeing a lot of issues be confronted in the future. We’re going to say a lot.
We just might not be saying what we think.
Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach. He blogs on careers at http://www.fantopro.com/, nerd and geek culture at http://www.nerdcaliber.com/, and does a site of creative tools at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. He can be reached at https://www.stevensavage.com/.