Chris Cheng came to national attention in the shooting community by winning Season 4 of the History Channel series “Top Shot.” Winning allowed him to quit his job at Google and become a professional shooter sponsored by Bass Pro Shops. I ran into him at the 2013 NRA annual meeting, and he could not have been nicer.
Chris Cheng is an exemplar of Gun Culture 2.0. Although his father served in the Navy and taught him to shoot when he was six, it was not something they did often. Prior to being selected for Top Shot he did not have much shooting experience. He had no hunting, military, or law enforcement background. What experience he had was occasional recreational target shooting.
His background defies stereotypes of traditional gun culture. He is a multiracial Californian, double bass playing UCLA graduate, who worked for 5 years for Google and is involved with the San Francisco Opera and Symphony.
Without wading through the muck that is the on-line comment sections of many web sites (not to mention forums), I was interested to see what kind of response he would get.
–Left liberals: I had a hard time finding many lefties commenting on this, other than liberal gun owners who were naturally supportive. But I can say from my own experience in one of the most liberal of all professions – professors of sociology – it is far easier to come out as gay than as a gun owner. Cheng makes this same point about being a gun owner at Google. (If anyone has some references for left liberal responses to Cheng coming out, please post them in the comments.)
–Libertarians: There is a very strong libertarian strain among gun owners, and this perspective was most evident in the comments I read. A good example is my fellow North Carolinian, Sean Sorrentino, who wrote on Cheng’s blog:
Dear Chris. Please don’t take this the wrong way, but so what?
Yes, I realize that it is a big part of your life, so it’s important to you. But the rest of us, the vast majority, really don’t care. It simply isn’t something that bothers us.
Oh, sure, some will make a deal out of it. And of course, I support your choice to be public about who you are. But in the end, none of our opinions on the subject are of any value to you. Your value as a human being isn’t subject to anyone’s opinion.
And if the gun haters’ heads explode because they can’t conceive of a gay man being good at shooting, that says more about their stereotyping than it will ever say about you or me.
Keep being an awesome shooter.
To which Cheng responded: Hey Sean, the “so what” reply is actually my favorite. It means it’s not a big deal, like it should be. If we want gays and guns to be accepted, both communities have to reach a point where no one blinks at the thought of a gay person, or a gun owner.
Of course, Sorrentino’s comment that “the vast majority” really don’t care is an empirical observation that bears some scrutiny. Which brings me to the social conservative wing of gun owners.
–Social conservatives: It could be argued that social conservatives are the heart of Gun Culture 1.0. Those who are rural and/or Southerners, especially those who are more religious, are more likely than others to own guns. They are also less accepting of homosexuality, as the following table based on National Opinion Research Center data shows (from the AEI report, “Polls on Attitudes on Homosexuality and Gay Marriage”):
So, the idea that the vast majority (of Americans? Of gun owners?) “really don’t care” needs further substantiation. At this point, I am doubtful, which makes Cheng’s coming out more significant to the gun culture than Sorrentino claims.
The moral differences between the libertarian and social conservative wings of the gun culture also merit further consideration. One of my promised 10 blog entries on the NRA meetings was going to be about conservative Christianity as the religion of the NRA.
The Cheng story this week made me wonder also about the tension within the NRA as it aspires to make the shooting community more inclusive, but also has a strong strain of Christian conservatism running through it. How do these two impulses fit together?