“How Do You Feel About Guns?”

It was a bright and sunny Saturday morning. The crabapples around the clinic were in full bloom, and the protesters were back after a very quiet weekend.

I was messaging with a friend who had visited the weekend before to tell him all the regular features of escorting that he’d missed were back. We had the huge sign on the truck showing the head of a fetus with hair (i.e., not an elective abortion), the sign of Jesus on the cross on the mountain of aborted fetuses, the conga prayer line, Ann running out to parking cars and trying to get herself hit. I apologized for showing him one of our duller weekends.

I’d just had a discussion with a couple of the new escorts. One had mentioned someone being scared for her or asking whether she was scared. We’d talked about my friends in places like Kansas who want to escort but who can’t handle having their lives and livelihoods under constant threat and about how it’s easier here. We’d laughed a little bit about very Minnesotan protesters who can be steered away from patients by stepping into their personal space.

Then he walked by. He paused when he’d nearly passed us to look at our vests. “Choice,” he said. “How do you feel about guns?”

He had the look of someone who had been released from the county hospital because what he really needed was a social worker. He was physically uncoordinated, shabbily dressed, slow of speech, and of course, socially inappropriate. He’d come from the direction of the hospital.

Dave appointed himself our speaker without turning to meet the man’s eyes. “We don’t all agree. We have lots of different opinions.”

It didn’t matter to the guy that he didn’t know what we thought or that he didn’t have one individual to engage personally. “Some people say guns kill people.”

He had a stack of paper in his hand, not pamphlets like the protesters have, but plain office paper. I assumed it was from the hospital, but I still looked hard at the one loosely crumpled piece he held under the rest. Eventually, I decided it was too small to be wrapped around a gun. He probably wasn’t dangerous.

He probably wasn’t dangerous anyway, but we’ve seen the protesters take advantage of vulnerable people before, and the outcomes have ranged from pitiful to frightening. Before I started escorting, I spent several years walking past the building on my way to and from work. For a while, there was a man who tried to hand out literature outside the parking ramp on days when Ann wasn’t there. I say he tried, because he appeared to be the shiest person I’ve ever met. He was supposed to engage with people as they drove up. What he actually did most of the time he was there was leave pamphlets in the bushes outside the parking ramp.

Then there were the homeless guys the protesters got so riled up about babies being killed inside the building that they charged inside. They didn’t get far. Security is good there. But it required security, and it put these guys in violation of federal laws the protesters weren’t willing to break themselves.

So I decided this guy was probably fine for now. He tried to make conversation a couple more times, to be met by vague answers or silence, then he moved on after mentioning choice again. Moving on, in this case, meant talking to the protesters. I watched this, both to make sure they weren’t working him up and, yes, to enjoy their discomfort with his conversational attempts. Sometimes I’m mean.

He did most of the talking there, too, though he lasted longer with them than with us. Then he walked on. When he rounded the corner of the building, I thought we were done with him. I was wrong.

About an hour later, he came back around the corner. So did a security guard from the bible college across the street from the clinic. The guard stopped where he could watch our guy.

He was moving faster now, though he still wasn’t very coordinated. When he got to us, he turned and marched past us into the building, muttering something about needing to get into the clinic. Dave followed him to alert security and help if needed. The bible college’s security guard wandered away, because apparently what happens in our building is none of his business. The rest of us hung out in our usual spot in front of the clinic and re-evaluated the “conversation” about guns.

Long story short, he turned out to be as inept at getting into the clinic as he was at making conversation. It wasn’t that he didn’t try. He just didn’t get anywhere, and his attempts were unfocused and incoherent.

He did manage to get into the building’s dumpster, however. He was there for the third time when I left for the day, and the police had finally been called. He wasn’t considered a threat at that point, but he was a persistent nuisance.

On my way to a party later, I heard from Dave. “While he may have been confused, he may have posed a bigger threat than we thought. After the security guard scared him away we found some papers he had dropped, including an Operation Rescue mailer.

One of the papers he’d been carrying with him was a printout of this Operation Rescue message from 2012 about Whole Women’s Health taking over the clinic. Dave said, “He had this printed out, along with what looked like some printouts of a patent on revolving door technology and a medical sheet on salt?” The Operation rescue message includes this incorrect claim:

Whole Women’s Health recently made headlines in Texas when two of its clinics in Austin and McAllen, were caught during an undercover investigation by Operation Rescue illegally dumping the remains of aborted babies in open and overflowing trash dumpsters. Together with Stericycle, the chain’s medical waste disposal company, the abortion clinics were fined a total of $83,000.

The reality behind the fines is here, but this does explain why this guy kept getting into the dumpster.

Unfortunately, it might also explain why he had guns on his mind when he stopped to talk to us. The president of Operation Rescue, Troy Newman, is not exactly known for his pacifist stance on abortion providers. I don’t know whether our guy believed him on that the way he believed Operation Rescue about babies in dumpsters, but I can’t say he didn’t. I can’t say the person who tried to start a conversation about guns after reading my vest didn’t believe I should be executed.

Photo of man standing on the sidewalk with a DSLR camera and longer lens, with camera pointed at me and another escort in a yellow vest. Crabapples bloom in the background across the street.
I’m sure he just likes us, right?

Escorting in Minnesota may be safer than escorting in Kansas, but it isn’t safe. Our regular protesters might not think we should literally die to save babies, but that doesn’t keep them from influencing people who could. When someone new shows up at the clinic and starts taking our pictures, as this guy did this past weekend, we don’t know what he’ll try to get people to do with them.

That’s the reality of what we do out there. Most of it is standing around, laughing with each other and medical staff. A smaller portion of it involves getting between annoying protesters and stressed patients or companions.

Then, not very often, we see something like this and wonder whether we’re going to die. We probably won’t. This guy probably wasn’t dangerous.

But that’s only because most people probably aren’t dangerous. It isn’t because the protesters–and the organizations behind them–don’t make everything about this more dangerous for us. They do. Every random stranger on the sidewalk is a potential threat because of them.

This one? Maybe not, despite the gun talk and the dumpster diving. The next one?

“How Do You Feel About Guns?”

19 thoughts on ““How Do You Feel About Guns?”

  1. 1

    IMHO guns are an enormous responsibility that needs to be taken seriously at all times. The problem is too many people don’t do that. There are too many instances of someone being careless or enraged that results in someone getting hurt or dying. Having a gun is power and people are tempted to use that power, even if that power is the decision of who lives and dies. Gun owners are more likely to kill themselves or a someone by ‘accident’ with their own weapon than use it against an actual threat. But sadly the rest of us have to put our lives at risk so they can feel safe.

  2. 5

    Yes, sure, it’s Planned Parenthood’s fault that Operation Rescue is training people to be terrorists by lying about women’s human rights. It’s Planned Parenthood’s fault that this dude asking about guns was a potential direct physical threat to the blogger who wrote this post.

    Rethink your morality, mate.

  3. 6

    Okay. This post isn’t about Planned Parenthood. I don’t volunteer at a Planned Parenthood clinic. The clinic for which I volunteer is named in the post.

    However, “these organizations” is a completely ambiguous term. No fighting over the statement at least until it’s cleared up. Or I’ll shut these fucking comments off. So far, all they’re doing is making me think no one gives a shit. Is that happening in part because today is a bad day? Yes, but it’s still happening.

  4. 7

    Thanks for the courage to do such hard, important, dangerous work. I hope for your safety and for a world where people can access such vital services without fear or harassment.

  5. 8

    Sigh. I meant the anti-abortion groups.
    I’m sorry I mis-read the organization you volunteer for. I see the reference to Whole Women’s Health half way through the article, but I must have mentally associated the topic and the word “clinic” to a different organization.
    I tend to have problems with names, particularly in print so Women’s Health Clinic read (in my head) “the organization I’m talking about which you already read as Planned Parenthood”. I have a friend who volunteers at PP so it was already in my head.
    I did read the article as I’ve read the others (like the one about the guy with the guitar) and I wanted to say something supportive.
    Sorry it had the opposite effect of pissing everyone off and giving the impression I didn’t read it.

  6. 10

    I have to say, commenting at the orbit so far makes me feel like I should fuck right off (at least in two cases now because I was told to do so) having tried to seek out a community because I was so frustrated with how little of a shit anyone in my community seemed to give about social justice topics.
    Not your fault of course, but I share the feeling.

  7. 11

    Actually on the caring topic. If it’s not putting you on the spot, what would you like to see someone reading this article do to show support beyond empathy? Is donating to Whole Women’s Health a good action, should I send my representatives a letter asking for something specific?

  8. 12

    That’s a great question. Thank you.

    Donations to the National Network of Abortion Funds are always a good thing. On the political front, choosing our next Supreme Court justice (and all the federal district court judges) is probably the most pressing thing right now, both for protecting access directly and as we try to grapple with protester interference. On a practical level at this point, this means doing everything possible to make sure our next president is Hillary Clinton. State legislatures are incredibly important too, but the impact our next president will have on this issue is hard to overstate.

  9. 13

    Done. I will donate to NNAF today, vote for Hillary in the presidential election and continue to support progressive candidates in my local elections with an eye towards women’s reproductive rights. Thank you for the posts.

  10. 15

    Hell. I’m sorry. Hair trigger on my spam/troll heuristics on this topic. Between mention of Planned Parenthood and “damage these organizations do”, I thought it was a saved search to spam on anything to do with women’s health clinics generally.

    (Yes, people do things like that.)

  11. 16

    On the real, that Saturday was downright terrifying. And I’ve been at WWH when the anti fucks convinced some poor man to try and enter the building – while they all smiled smugly when he got upset about us blocking him.

    It’s a risky ass job, getting riskier by the month, no thanks to the Center of Medical Progress and their bullshit videos. Yes, they targeted Planned Parenthood, but that don’t mean that independent clinics are safe.

    Does the thought scare me? Hell yeah. It’s why I don’t leave on Saturdays without telling my partner that I love him and give both cats a snuggle. But I can’t let the fear stop me, or show it to the antis.

    Best to laugh and talk a whole lot of shit about them. If anything, it blows off steam. 🙂

  12. 17

    Thanks for mentioning Hillary and the Supreme Court. Way too many people ignore the things they can actually do because, like me, they are not in a (physical) position to do the work you’re brave enough to do and conclude they can therefore do nothing.
    Keep on keeping on!

  13. 19

    Clinic escort in the Washington, DC area here. I like what you had responded regarding the spectrum of viewpoints regarding gun control and arming rights. As a trainer for new escorts, I emphasize the point that we’re proud of the diversity among our volunteers regarding beliefs. Some of us are theist, atheist, liberal, libertarian, and have a wide variety of viewpoints on so many issues — but are brought together by our viewpoints on the importance of women’s reproductive health rights. It’s important for people to know that champions for women’s autonomy isn’t limited to one specific demographic but spans many who see this as important.

Comments are closed.