Uncle Dave Tackles the Vista Outdoor Debate
I wrote this before I realized Cam was writing something about guns. I mean, we're writers, not talkers...You can't really expect us to get on the same page all of the time. I will admit that when I saw Cam's piece I got kind of excited because I thought that meant I could scrap this sucker and not worry about putting myself out there. But alas, here we are. More guns.
Personally, I don’t really care if you want to own guns. If you want to buy dozens of them to play with in the bath while you splash around and make “bang bang!” noises, that’s fine. If you want to go to a gun range and blast holes in pictures of things, that’s okay too. I don’t really understand it, but I’m going to recognize that most governments in most countries will give you the legal ability to do such a thing (you know, one way or another). We good so far?
My problem is when your rights to own a gun infringe on my rights to not get shot in the face. I know, that’s a bit dramatic. I live in Canada, after all. The chances of me getting caught up in a shooting of any type are remote…although not as remote as we might hope.
But even though I’m up here, one country removed from the insane debate y'all have going on down there, I think things have reached a point where this is now a “moral thing upon which anybody can have an opinion.” For example, I’m not gay and I don’t live in Russia, but I’m allowed to look down upon the way Mr. Putin deals with that.
So let’s just say, from up here in Canada, I respect your American right to own a gun, but I have an equal amount of respect for the people who are a bit worried that they’re going to get shot due to your god-given right to own a firearm. And when I see that I could have a chance, however small, to have an impact on that debate, that's something that I'm going to put some serious thought into, and something that I hope we all do.
And I know, I know, I know. Guns don’t kill people, people kill people. You’re a responsible gun owner and would never do anything dangerous with your gun. But isn't that exactly why we have laws? To protect us from all those other schmucks who aren't really paying attention to what they're doing? We don’t have speed limits for the 63% of people who drive safely or seat belt laws for the 98% of people who don't need to be told that it would be bad if they fly through the windshield on impact. I don’t smoke in bed but I’m glad that we’ve made laws to prevent mattresses being made of kindling and gunpowder. And I'm a bit confused but okay that it's a tiny bit harder for me to buy over-the-counter cold medicine if it truly does make it a bit harder to cook meth. Or to buy enough fertilizer to build a giant bomb. Or whatever.
We make laws to protect people from doing stupid, dangerous things. If we feel unsafe or witness a lot of stupid activity, we’re entitled, as a society, to voice an opinion about how things are used and regulated. And if we view enough irresponsible and dangerous usage of something...anything, really... it’s not a good enough argument to point at the majority that don’t do these things and claim that as justification for doing nothing. And there are more than enough examples of people doing really, really bad things with guns for people to start thinking that maybe the current setup is less than ideal.
Can we speak rationally about why you need that semi-automatic rifle with the large ammunition clip without it turning into a pedantic discussion about how we’re all idiots because it’s “not an assault rifle?”
And this is the problem. There's an organization of approximately 5 Million People that have decided that there isn't a valid opinion on guns other than "all of them, all of the time". They've decided to shut down any sort of debate on the topic using the millions and millions of dollars in funding that they receive every year from the people that make the very thing we're trying to talk about. They bully politicians into taking their side on the issue and make any sort of change impossible.
And that's where I come to this whole Bell/Giro/Camelbak thing. I'm not a huge fan of the idea that their parent company makes guns and ammunition and all of that, but I also recognize that they have a legal right to do so and that they're probably not going to stop doing that anytime soon. And if we start digging into the ownership groups on all of our purchases, we're going to pretty quickly get really depressed and not be able to buy anything. But that might be a lesson in paying more attention to our purchasing habits than it is an argument about not doing something here.
So I'm almost willing to give the whole "gun manufacturer" thing a pass. But what I'm having a harder time doing is giving the whole "NRA supporter" thing that same pass. If we're going to be the slightest bit rational on this issue, it's going to involve ideas and discussion and some hard truths. From everybody. A well-funded group that seems hell bent on this discussion not even taking place feels like the last thing that anybody needs right now.
Because, it is possible for people to have guns, and for there to be reasonable limitations placed on that ownership. Even the gunniest gun owners have a line they won't cross somewhere, right? Somewhere along the line, people decided that 17-year-olds can't buy their own weapons. Or that most people don't need shoulder-launched stinger missiles. Would it be okay to bat around some ideas to keep guns out of the hands out of violent criminals, terrorists and those who might harm themselves or others? Can we speak rationally about why you need that semi-automatic rifle with the large ammunition clip without it turning into a pedantic discussion about how we’re all idiots because it’s “not an assault rifle?” There probably are some people out there who “want to take all your guns away.” But there’s also a shitload of people who just want to see some kind of rational limitation put on this thing before we’re all required to have advanced weapons training as a prerequisite to visiting your country. And unfortunately, I think the NRA has played a large part in turning any of those discussions into an apocalyptic, winner take all, cage match filled with confusion, semantics and grammatical arguments, rather than a productive discussion about guns. And that is not healthy, or good for anybody.
But the worst thing that could happen right now is for Vista to divest itself from cycling. If they decide this shit is too much of a hassle, focus on guns and go right back to the way that they're doing things now, we no longer have any sort of voice in any of this, and we won’t really have accomplished all that much.
In all honesty, in the near future, I'm not planning on buying any products in the Bell/Giro/Camelbak sphere (but in writing this article I've probably seen my last free helmet or shoes for quite some time). It would be really easy for me to say that I won't buy these products because I really don't have to back up those actions with anything. I probably wouldn't, but that's just an academic point based on nothing.
I like what I'm hearing from the CEO at MEC on this topic. Shots have been fired. Waves have been made. Now it's time to see what Bell/Giro/Camelbak are made of. We know they're not making guns or directly sending money to the NRA. But they're involved with somebody who is. What sort of impact can they have on changing the way Vista's shooting brands deal with this issue? What happens at Vista when there's a serious threat to 25% of their revenue? If the answer is 'nothing' and Vista decides that there is more money to be made from a strong gun market than from us mouthy cyclists...well, then that is definitely a decision being made and something for us to consider. But the worst thing that could happen right now is for Vista to divest itself from cycling. If they decide this shit is too much of a hassle, focus on guns and go right back to the way that they're doing things now, we no longer have any sort of voice in any of this, and we won’t really have accomplished all that much.
So I guess that's where I'm at on this. I love that we're having this conversation. I love that, as a cyclist, I have a tiny bit of leverage as to where this debate could go. I'm not going to tell you what to do or what to think, but if you really do care about this (and you should, one way or another), reach out to the companies involved and tell them your opinion. They keep telling us that they are independent companies that have nothing to do with the shooting side of the business. Let's see if they can prove it. Let's give them a reasonable way to win back our trust and see what happens. Let's see if they can nudge a large gun owner in a new direction. My two ideas for how this could happen:
1) Bell/Giro/Camelbak publicly demand that Vista cease any and all funding to the NRA.
2) Bell/Giro/Camelbak or Vista set up some long-term funding for organizations dedicated solely to gun safety and gun control or to victims of gun violence. Let's at least level the playing field.
I'm sure you can think of other ways to impact this conversation. If this is something you agree with, keep up the pressure, but give Giro/Bell/Camelbak a constructive way to respond, and reward them if they do so. I don’t pretend to have all of the answers, but I think we all need to put some thought into what “success” looks like here. I think that improving the level of discourse by marginalizing one of the most toxic voices would be a huge win for everybody.