Why it took me three years to do it I don't know—and don't care to know—so I will probably relapse from time to time. My bad.
But here's the long and short of it: insulting others, particularly if you're good at it, can become addictive, and it's a habit you should avoid. It is, however, a constant temptation in the gun-violence prevention movement.
So for those of you new to this struggle, let me draw out the scenario that leads you into this nasty addiction, and I'll hope that you can avoid it and not make the mistakes that I made.
We need you healthy and free of addiction.
I've sketched out the sequence of events that can lead you into this quagmire, and I hope you'll memorize them and so avoid the kind of trouble that dogged me for several years.
First, you post an article late one night that questions the current American gun-policy, sometimes with statistics.
Next, a troll makes a wise-crack (one that is often sexual in nature) and cites an article that supports his point. These people are usually white males, and if they have a picture associated with their account, it will either feature guns, or flags that they associate with an historical epoch that never existed as they believe it did, or sometimes dead animals, and most commonly a skull with a bandana and a badly written slogan—because skulls are scary to trolls and writing is not something your troll has tried very much.
If it's a photograph of the troll's face, he'll have a goatee and a shaved head; or it'll feature a cowboy hat, which dishonors cowboys, or a baseball cap, that disgraces ball-players, with a slogan that calls up a fantasy-league of forgotten dreams which they take to be history because Rush or Breitbart told them it was.
They appear not to have engaged in any sort of physical exercise, unlike cowboys and baseball players, for many years.
It's getting late now, and you're tired, but you can't stop. You're credibility is on the line, after all. (No it's not, but the fog of war, and all that . . . )
So you drop a link that sources numbers supporting your original posting, and the troll will then attack your new source as being unreliable, un-American, and cited only by cowards like yourself who are having, by the way, children with your sister; or at least that's the implication because, as you'll note, these words are poly-syllabic and beyond the reach of your troll. If he attempts those words, however, he will mis-type them because typing is not something your troll has tried very much either.
And you respond that his source is equally unreliable (I've never indulged the sexual slurs), and that the webpage he cites has one of those twirling globes that even your mother, who is 93, thinks are dated and stylistically embarrassing.
At this point, neither of you has convinced the other one to abandon his opinion and run in slow motion through fields of flowers to embrace at sunset.
But a lot energy has been spilled in erecting this red-faced standstill, and it's really late.
Now, your troll ramps up the name-calling to the point that you wonder if it might be actionable. (It's at least "totally gross" in my 6-year-old daughter's sense of the phrase.)
At this point you will lapse into an emotionally exhausted silence, desperately trying to convince yourself that you've gained an intellectual superiority of some sort because you baled out just before a defamation suit against you became conceivable.
The point is you haven't done anything productive. Those who are quietly watching this online exchange are only impressed by how quickly adults can begin to behave like children in a school-yard spat.
In fact, you've taken time away from other tasks that might actually help you move others toward the solutions that we need. And so your adversary has, in fact, won because his diversionary tactic has succeeded. (Which I believe, by the way, is a conscious strategy of the gun-fringe.)
O, and I forgot this part: Just before the exchange grinds to its halt, you'll often get a mini-lecture dimly related to American history and the founding of our country. Names are dropped. Like Thomas Jefferson or James Madison, whose prose so intimidates your troll that he wrongly assumes that you too will be intimidated too by a language that you've mastered and he hasn't.
Don't go there. Just don't.
The only productive place you go now is to bed. It's late; you've wasted a lot of time and even more energy.
Tomorrow you will do much better.
And everyone will be stronger, happier, and more willing to tackle the real problems that lie before us.
And the trolls can't deal with that.