Stop vilifying gun owners and NRA members every shooting

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Yesterday’s tragedy in Florida reminds us (again) that life is precious and evil exists.

Shootings, as with other acts of violence and terrorism, have always struck me to the core. Innocent lives lost locally, across the nation or even across the globe are a tragedy that no one should endure. I thought I understood loss and fear — then I became a mother.

As a mother, it makes me want to hold on to my children close and never let them out of my sight, though these days even that wouldn’t guarantee their safety. My children are my heart. I can’t begin to fathom the agony that the parents must feel losing theirs.

When we have situations like the one in South Florida or Las Vegas, or any other gun tragedy, the question that come to mind first is how could this have been prevented? Yet very quickly, it stops being about actual prevention. And it becomes nothing more than a politically polarizing fight of us vs. them. Gun owners vs. gun critics. Facts and fiction get twisted.
We saw this with the exaggeration of how many school shootings there had been, a Bloomberg group cited 18. That number includes more than violent acts it in schools during school settings. A Washington Post article sorts through the fact vs. fiction of that including the fact that number included an adult suicide in the parking lot of a school that had not been in use in seven months. It also included the discharge of a firearm after school hours and a few accidental discharges. But facts didn’t stop countless news outlets across the country from repeating the Bloomberg propaganda, and the facts certainly won’t stop the bad information from being spread throughout the internet.
This brings me to the emotional arguments of gun control that follow shootings. There are those who believe that if you support gun rights you don’t have compassion for the lives lost, that you don’t value life, or that in some way you are responsible for this level of violence that we see.
That’s simply not true.
It’s disgusting to dehumanize someone based on their position on gun control. Just as it is wrong for conservatives to dehumanize pro-choice supporters. We are all human and I don’t know a single person who’s not rocked to the core by these senseless acts of violence and terror.
I worked for the NRA-ILA for two campaign seasons. While I in no way speak for the organization, I can tell you about my personal experience.
I went to both gun shops and gun shows and talked to gun owners. There’s such a strong  sense of community and family among those who own firearms, and they absolutely want to protect their Second Amendment rights. But they also love life and those around them. Second Amendment supporters are opposed to and appalled, shocked and disgusted by gun crime. Those two things are not mutually exclusive.
You don’t have to have a dead heart to be a member of the NRA or support Second Amendment rights. Opposing limitations on the lawful ownership and use of firearms and/or belonging to a group that is not the same as supporting crime and certainly is not an indictment on one’s character as gun opponents would have you believe.
So what does “I am the NRA” mean to me? It means that I am member of an organization, a group of people who support fundamental, American rights. You may not understand someone’s need or want for a specific type of gun, but that does not mean that gun should be banned. You may not understand the need of, or desire, for someone to recreationally shoot firearms, but your opinion doesn’t trump their rights.
I don’t like some profane words — I recently wrote a blog about the n-word. I don’t understand why people choose to use it. But it’s their right. I don’t understand lyrics to songs that incite violence, dehumanize women and negate the value of law enforcement, but I understand that they stem from someone’s right to express themselves and they exist for those who do enjoy them. Don’t tell me words don’t kill people the same way as guns because I’d argue they can, and do. Words can incite violence, and hatred, and disrespect, and that they’re immeasurably powerful. This is why we rallied as a nation when the Charlottesville protest happened to shout out the voices of hate.
The idea that “common sense regulations” will stop violence is simply not the case. What we really need to get to is the heart of the matter.

Everyone is looking for answers, as they do after each shooting. Even more than that, they’re looking for something that will give them a sense of control. It is during these initial days, full of grief and rage, that gun control advocates and Second Amendment supporters inevitably find themselves inundated with opinions from the other side. The shouting drowns out the solutions we could agree on. The solutions we do agree on which there are many.

It also drowns out the questions that go beyond gun control that suck the air out of the room:

  • Knowing that studies have shown early exposure to violent forms of entertainment are predictors of later aggressive behavior why aren’t we doing more to limit access to this source of influence?
  • The Texas shooting showed a breakdown in reporting that allowed someone who was ineligible to purchase a firearm to do so. In the case of Florida would an involuntary mental health hold on the young man who committed the atrocious acts have put him in the system so that he would not have been able to purchase his firearm? Teachers and former classmates say while he was a student, he had an angry disposition that led to him being expelled and flagged as a danger on school grounds. Last year, he had reportedly commented on a YouTube post that he would be a “professional school shooter.” The FBI has since admitted that a user had alerted authorities to the post. Why did those things go unchecked? We need to do better using the controls we already have in place. We need not ignore warning signs and complaints.
  • Have we let our mental health system crumble to the point where we don’t recognize cries for help or those who need it yet would never seek care? We must emphasize funding this critical system that desperately needs an overhaul. That said, we also must put into perspective that the overwhelming majority of those with mental illness will never commit a crime and those who do frequently are a threat to themselves more than anyone else.
  • Our schools are a gateway to society and we need to equip them with more than law enforcement standing at guard. We need mental health professionals who are trained to recognize the early warning signs of not just impending violence, but also suicide and depression and the many heart-wrenching things that lead to the loss of the life.
Yes, there are “common sense” solutions to consider. But that isn’t gun control. Someone intent on committing a crime will do so regardless of the legality of the weapon. Let’s start by enforcing the laws we already have on the books. Then follow with adequately funding our mental health care facilities, our courts, and our corrections institutions.
Let’s stop discounting one anther’s humanity, and instead focus on the fact: we all want less violence.
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