Gun instructor Mike Stilwell demonstrates a revolver as he teaches a packed class to obtain the Utah concealed gun carry permit, at Range Master of Utah, on January 9, 2016 in Springville, Utah.
( George Frey
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Many journalists would probably concede that they make mistakes when covering guns. If you don't own one, never fired one, the technical distinctions may seem trivial but, as we heard, this ignorance often comes across as distain, further evidence of a liberal press that would rather be rid of gun culture altogether than learn anything about it. Often, that feeling is mutual.
KEVIN MICHALOWSKI: I’m getting the impression not only are they not learning enough, they don't want to learn enough.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Kevin Michalowski is a police officer, gun safety instructor and executive editor of Concealed Carry Magazine.
KEVIN MICHALOWSKI: I have gone out of my way, both as a police officer and as a member of what we will call the firearms media right now. I have offered my services free of charge, to provide some of the detail that members of the media really need to put together accurate stories. And I get absolutely no response. Most of the reporters in the world have no experience with firearms, are afraid of firearms and don't want to know anything about firearms. It’s basically “gun go bang, gun bad.” That’s all anybody wants to know.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So the media are pathetically uninformed about guns. Are they pathetically uninformed about gun owners?
KEVIN MICHALOWSKI: The media, by and large, looks at gun owners as hillbilly cowboys who are just wandering around waiting for a fight. Typically, what we get, more from the people who are watching the media and commenting, is that the only reason I own a gun is because I have a small penis; I’m compensating for something else.
And this idea that we own guns because we want to fight, to make us feel stronger or we need to control something or we have this problem with authority, or, or whatever it is, that’s completely off base for people that I deal with day-in and day-out. Our gun owners are, on average, about 55 years old. They’re highly educated men, typically. They’re affluent and they get lots and lots of training.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Are you deriving that from statistics or is it just that you've met so many of them?
KEVIN MICHALOWSKI: I take that from how many gun owners there are in the country. We’re looking at somewhere upwards of 100 million people. A third of America owns firearms. All these 100 million people who are doing everything right, that’s not news. What’s making news is the one idiot who goes out there and does something stupid, and then the media says, well look, a guy with a gun did this. You’re not looking at the 100 million people standing behind this guy saying, man, he was an idiot. He should take personal responsibility for what he did. And gun owners are the people with the most responsibility for what they're doing because we understand what can happen when someone uses a gun improperly.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm-hmm. You host a series of YouTube videos called “Into the Fray.” And, in fact, you address not just gun safety but also the use of language and etiquette. There’s one called, “Gun Owners: How NOT to Act on Social Media,” where you read a violent social media post made by a gun owner who’s talking about how he wanted to shoot someone who looked at his wife the wrong way. And you said –
KEVIN MICHALOWSKI: I tell this to people all the time. No matter what you've been through, no matter what you’ve seen, no matter what has happened to you in the past, none of that stuff gives you the right to act crazy. We are responsibly armed Americans, and that means we take very seriously our right to keep and bear arms. This is not how we should act.
KEVIN MICHALOWSKI: First of all, I was – I was very upset by the language that this guy chose to use.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: He said, “I should have shot him,” right?
KEVIN MICHALOWSKI: Yeah, he said, “I should have shot him.” And, you know what, there are cases where people need to be shot, but not for how they look at you or how they talk to you or anything like that. We only use force of any kind against behavior.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Life-threatening behavior.
KEVIN MICHALOWSKI: Yes. But one of the key elements for me making that video and reminding people about this was what's going to happen to you after you're involved in a deadly force incident, in which you used force to defend yourself against an imminent deadly threat? Once the district attorney gets ahold of your social media posts, suddenly you are no longer an unwilling participant who was forced into a situation to defend yourself, but now everybody starts talking about how violent and angry you were before - you are just looking for a fight.
We want to make sure that we are showing the world we’re doing the right thing because that's the kind of people we are. We’re safe on the range, we’re safe in public. And there's no such thing as an accidental discharge. It is an negligent discharge. If your gun, quote, unquote, “goes off” you did something to make it go off. That’s just the truth.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You think about language a lot. For instance, you never use the phrase “shoot to kill.” You have a different phrase.
KEVIN MICHALOWSKI: We want to stop the threat. I don't want to kill anybody. The firearm is your last resort - situational awareness, conflict avoidance and then objectively reasonable force to stop the threat. We’re in the middle of a training video shoot right now, teaching people not to use deadly force in protection of property. If somebody’s burglarizing your car, let ‘em take whatever they got from your car and go away. Don't start shooting at them. And that's what the vast majority of gun owners know and the vast majority of media people think we don't know.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You wrote a piece for the website Personal Liberty a few months ago, titled “Let's Not Lose Our Humanity.” I'll quote a little from that. “Maybe it is time we, as gun owners, step up and show our humanity. Perhaps your local gun club, which is very likely in the suburbs or some rural area, could make a substantial donation to an urban food pantry or a homeless shelter or, better yet, show up and serve food or help with distribution, put on your range safety officer best and pick up trash where everyone can see you. What if every gun show in America were a collection point for food for the local food pantry? What do you think of me now, Michael Bloomberg?”
KEVIN MICHALOWSKI: Yeah, we’re losing the media war because the media won't listen to us. Gun owners in America, they’re members of the Lions Club, they’re involved in their community, they’re on school boards. We’re losing the public relations campaign because we don't have a voice in the media. If I took a group of range safety officers and we did a trash cleanup day, the media wouldn’t show up. But let one bullet escape the range, go over the berm and hit someone’s house, the media’s gonna be all over that.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Do you think there is any way to bridge the divide, to address the issue of gun violence in our country, to concede that there may be a problem and that guns might be involved, or do you think that this is just an unbreachable gap?
KEVIN MICHALOWSKI: I’m gonna have to say, just based on the words you gave me now, this may be an unbreachable gap.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Uh huh.
KEVIN MICHALOWSKI: You’re already assuming that the problem is the piece of gear, the inanimate object.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Do we agree that there are too many homicides in this country, most of which are committed with guns? Do you feel that those two things can't have any relation to each other?
KEVIN MICHALOWSKI: Yes, I will agree that there are too many homicides in this country, but I don't believe it is the result of firearms. I believe that any criminal activity is an individual's choice.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And you believe that guns don't figure in to the number of crimes, when it makes committing a criminal act easier?
KEVIN MICHALOWSKI: No, I don't believe that guns figure into that. Coming to take away my firearms or to restrict my access to firearms or ammunition or whatever you’re going to do is not going to do anything to reduce the crime.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I’m willing to concede that I am reflexive on that point, but I have to come back at you and say, full background checks across the country, not just in some states, you know, license like we have to do with a car is not restricting anybody's access to guns. Everybody you know would qualify for a gun with no problem at all!
KEVIN MICHALOWSKI: You’re right. I will concede that I have a reflex. What I can do for the sake of advancing this conversation, I will say, okay, yes, let’s do exactly what you say. Let's make sure that we have a background check for the transfer of any firearm from one person to another and let’s make sure that every person has to have their gun listed, so that some civil authority knows where that gun is. It is not going to reduce crime. The people who are on the bad side of the equation, they’re breaking the law anyway, so they’re just gonna break another law.
I'm looking at numbers from the FBI records here, of 12,000 total firearms deaths, out of a nation of 300 million people. Yes, 12,000 deaths is too many because death is a tragic thing. But we have 100 million firearms owners. Now, let’s start plotting where all of these crimes are on a map and go to those areas and solve the problems that are leading to the crimes in those areas.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Kevin, I would love to go around this circle with you a million times more, but I have to say goodbye.
KEVIN MICHALOWSKI: Okay. I will take you shooting, I will put guns in your hand.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You will?
KEVIN MICHALOWSKI: Yes, absolutely. We can train you and show you, and we’ll make that happen.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Kevin, thank you very much.
KEVIN MICHALOWSKI: Oh, you're very welcome, and thank you for having me on the show.
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BROOKE GLADSTONE: Kevin Michalowski is a police officer, gun safety instructor and executive editor of Concealed CarryMagazine.
DEBORAH AMOS: Coming up, a possible way out of gun control gridlock, information and distance from Washington, DC.