Hiding Behind Big Guns: The New Campaign Strategy

Hiding Behind Big Guns: The New Campaign Strategy June 5, 2018

On Saturday, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach rode through a parade in Shawnee, Kansas. In a jeep, with a giant machine gun pointed at the crowd.

Oh wait, my bad. It’s a REPLICA of a giant machine gun, LOL. Nobody panic.

Except, just … why? Why on God’s green earth, in a time so plagued by gun violence and fraught with anxiety, would you ride through a community parade full of families and children with the appearance of heavily loaded artillery? What is your implication in that moment? Is it meant to say “I’m here to protect your freedom?” Or does it say, “I could shoot you right now, but I won’t, you’re welcome.” 

When the conversation about common sense gun reform is in full tilt around here–and when well organized community groups are actively calling for change, riding through town with literal guns blazing is, at best, tone deaf; and at worst, aggressively cruel. Did we mention this guy is running for governor?

My friend and colleague Johnny Lewis is the pastor of Shawnee Community Christian Church. Y’all, Johnny is SO MUCH NICER than me. He walks a gracious bipartisan line in all things, and is very careful to not disparage candidates or parties, ever, or even give the appearance of picking sides. But this was too much, even for him, and he posted this thoughtful, tactful response online:

As a pastor I try to love, respect, and listen to people of all political parties and people who see the second amendment in different ways, though I have my own feelings about it.

My greatest concern today was not Kris Kobach’s political position (that’s another conversation to be had and to consider as a voter). It was that in a world where our children (including my child who is in kindergarten) live with anxiety about school shootings and do intruder drills regularly that any politician thought it was ok to drive through a crowd of children with an automatic weapon pointed at the crowd.

I don’t think my daughter saw it based on a conversation we had afterward (I certainly did not point it out to her), but that does not make it ok. There was an audible gasp from the parents seated around us (whom we did not know) when he drove by and attempts to distract their children. It was completely unnecessary and insensitive and out of place at this family friendly event.

A mild-mannered and moderate statement, right? The Kansas City Star called him for a quote, and his response was equally tactful and moderate. Except … the backlash was anything but moderate. Kobach’s followers came back with the predictable “snowflake” responses, in creative variations and variating in hostility. But that wasn’t all. They looked him up and found out where he worked. They filled his inbox. They called his church. They called him names, they called his daughter names (she’s six), they made threats, they promised protests at his church Sunday morning …

The best one (from where I sit, anyway) is the guy who tried to call Johnny a “liberal elite.” Joke’s on that guy, because Johnny’s from Harlan, Kentucky. You show me a “liberal elite” from Harlan, and I’ll show you a … nope, I got nothing comparable in degree of nonexistence.

Since pastors are not in this business for the high profile drama, Johnny took down his original post. He didn’t want to add fuel to the fire that Kobach was clearly fanning to ignite his supporters. But then, you know what? The Kobach campaign re-posted it. And then he went on Fox & Friends Monday to discuss the “liberal meltdown” caused by his parade stunt.

Not only did my friend take down his original post, he’s declined follow up interview requests from news outlets. But the Kobach camp keeps resurrecting the storyline because it stirs up their base. It stokes the outrage about the perceived threat to their rights, and what’s more, it earns him a solid endorsement from the NRA. I’d love to know how much money they’ve given to his campaign so far, but none of my digging around has yielded actual numbers. In Kansas, that money is so dark you can’t see it.

But meanwhile, these followers he’s stoking up are threatening churches. And children. Meanwhile, there’s no real response from the campaign to the actual concerns addressed by my friend’s original message; concerns that have been echoed by many in this community, including the City of Shawnee itself, who may be changing their parade rules now to keep such fool things from happening in the future.

I always try to acknowledge the reality of “not all gun owners…” Not all gun enthusiasts behave this way, I know, I know. But y’all “responsible gun owners” need to come get your people, because they have jumped the rails. This is not about second amendment anymore. The right to own guns is one thing, but the needless display of pointing an automatic weapon at a crowd of children is another. Faith leaders calling that out are not attacking anybody’s rights. To say that they are is dangerous, and that’s exactly what the Kobach campaign is doing. It’s dangerous, it’s irresponsible, and it has nothing to do with freedom.

I could preach daily on the need to reclaim civil discourse that doesn’t involve name-calling or threats towards children and worshipping communities. I could also point out that the gospel–which many conservative voters in these camps tend to claim is moderately important to them–is, above all else, a directive for a life of radical, uncompromising non-violence. But that seems to land nowhere.

What I’ll remind us of, instead, is that Kobach and his like-minded counterparts care far less about your Second Amendment rights than they do about the big bucks from the NRA. They care more about sound bites and frothing up the masses than they do about engaging their actual communities in actual discourse about real issues. Like so many politicians these days, Kobach hides behind the guns to cover up a lack of substance; the weakness of his message; and the presence of any real moral fiber or leadership ability.

In other words: men who hide behind large guns are clearly compensating for something.

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