Large numbers of Americans have aligned themselves on one side or the other in the debate over guns in this country. But, though each group may appear to be fairly united (and unwavering) in their beliefs, this is not actually the case. Among those in the pro-gun camp, divisions are forming between factions ranging from responsible gun owners endorsing reasonable safety measures to a growing number of radical groups advocating everything from gun hoarding to open carry of semi-automatic long rifles to all-out revolution against the government.
Despite these divisions, the truth is that all gun-owners must accept responsibility for the words and actions of all other gun owners. While this may seem unfair, especially for those in the more responsible group, this sharing of responsibility is the only way for gun owners to preserve their beloved right to bear arms. Because irresponsible gun owners attract all the attention, they will drive legislation. And, if they continue to act in ways that frighten and threaten the public, the response will eventually be to place restrictions on them and their guns. And, like it or not, this will affect responsible gun owners. Pro-gun lobbying groups like the NRA are strong, but even they are losing power as public opinion (and the courts) continues to slowly turn against guns. So, in order to preserve their own rights, these responsible gun owners must join the effort to rein in the more extreme groups.
Of course, I have pretty vocally supported increasing restrictions on gun ownership, and I would be very happy to see a reaction to gun-extremists that includes new, stronger gun-control laws (as well as increased enforcement of existing laws). But, the realist in me knows this is unlikely to happen. Without the help of responsible gun owners, a far more likely outcome is that gun-control laws remain the same and these extremist groups continue their armed march to the fringes unabated. And this march would likely end with more than a few casualties.
So, who are these fringe groups that have me so worried? The most visible in recent days is Open Carry Texas, with branches all across that state. They gained notoriety for their practice of carrying assault-style rifles into restaurants (and for the restaurants asking them to leave). Their stated goal is to show people that they do not need to fear guns, though their methodology is questionable. The reasoning seems to be, “See how I’m not shooting you with my scary-looking gun? Now you don’t need to be scared of guns anymore!” Their strategy has largely proven to be a misfire, leading even the NRA to ask them to leave their guns at home, even calling it “downright foolishness.” The NRA went on to say:
“[W]hile unlicensed open carry of long guns is also typically legal in most places, it is a rare sight to see someone sidle up next to you in line for lunch with a 7.62 rifle slung across his chest, much less a whole gaggle of folks descending on the same public venue with similar arms,” the statement said. “Let’s not mince words, not only is it rare, it’s downright weird and certainly not a practical way to go normally about your business while being prepared to defend yourself. To those who are not acquainted with the dubious practice of using public displays of firearms as a means to draw attention to oneself or one’s cause, it can be downright scary. It makes folks who might normally be perfectly open-minded about firearms feel uncomfortable and question the motives of pro-gun advocates.”
Of course, the NRA backed off this surprisingly bold and rational statement after OCT threatened to withdraw their support for the group. But, the fact that they made the statement in the first place shows that someone among gun owners acknowledges that those on the fringe are going too far. But, open-carry advocates are undeterred. Their demonstrations continue, with the newest trend appearing to be taking guns to Target stores across the country.
Another fringe group is not quite so well-organized as OCT, but is even more terrifying. This group includes those like the couple who recently shot and killed two police officers and a civilian in Las Vegas, believing that they were beginning an inevitable revolution against the government. While open-carry advocates can be intimidating when holding their weapons, these kind of “revolutionaries” have shown a willingness to actually fire them in public, killing innocent people in the process. We can try to dismiss these people as mentally ill or mere outliers, but the truth is they are a growing group fueled by the language used by gun groups like the NRA. It is very easy to see how statements like:
For you, as an individual, when do you draw your saber? When do you say, “Yes, I am willing to rise up and overthrow an oppressive, totalitarian government?” I hear the clank of metal on metal getting closer, but that’s not enough. The politicians have to hear it too. They have to hear it, and they have to believe it.
Our Constitution and our system of government guarantee that every American has the opportunity to write his or her name in the history books of tomorrow – to leave his or her imprint on the fabric of our nation. But in the end, history is always written only by a select few – the few who sacrifice of themselves to fight for the causes in which they believe.
which both come from NRA-supported groups, can lead to statements like:
There is no greater cause to die for than liberty. I will willingly die for liberty. Death, in a sense, is freedom from tyranny. Most notably is the suicide by cop routine. Yes, standing before despots is dangerous and most likely will not end well for you. I know this. My wife knows this. Soon they will come for us because they don’t like what we think, and what we say. They don’t like the fact that we simply will not submit to fascist rule.
To stop this oppression, I fear, can only be accomplished with bloodshed. May the best men of our beloved nation stand and fight tyranny, without fear and without regret. May we stand proud as free men instead of kneeling as slaves. May we offer our children a free and just world with our blood, sweat and tears as payment. Let our wives and lovers take vengeance upon our enemies in our absence. We cannot fail in this endeavor of Liberty, if we do we risk leaving our orphaned children to the will of tyrants. We, cannot with good conscience leave this fight to our children, because the longer we wait, our enemies become better equipped and recruit more mercenaries of death, willing to do a tyrants bidding without question. I know you are fearful, as am I. We certainly stand before a great and powerful enemy. I, however would rather die fighting for freedom, than live on my knees as a slave. Let it be known to our children’s children that free men stood fast before a tyrants wrath and were found victorious because we stood together. That we all cast aside our petty differences and united under the banner of Liberty and Truth. May future generations look back upon this time in history with awe and gratitude, for our courage to face tyranny, so that they could live happy and free.
which come from one of the shooters in the Las Vegas killing spree. This kind of paranoia does not have a rational explanation. But, the language groups like the NRA use to sell guns can easily be twisted by others as an excuse to use them. And, the fight against imagined enemies and tyrants can have very real victims.
A final group needing to be addressed is far less malicious, but even more deadly. They are not overtly evil, just foolish, but the end result of their foolishness is heartbreaking. I am referring to people who believe that requiring gun owners to store their weapons safely is somehow an infringement of their rights. This carelessness has led to the deaths of approximately 100 children a year—deaths that are falsely labeled as “accidents,” but are in fact due to blatant negligence. In fact, up to 70 percent of these deaths could have been avoided if the guns involved had been stored correctly.
I know most gun owners are rational people. Polling actually supports this belief. In regards to children and safe gun storage, 77 percent of gun owners think “parents with guns in their homes should be required to keep them locked and unloaded.” Almost as many (72 percent) think “doctors and teachers should be able to warn parents about safe storage of guns.” And, and overwhelming 81 percent of gun owners support “allowing law enforcement to charge adult gun owners with a crime when a minor gains access to a negligently stored gun and death or serious injury occur.”
I grew up among gun owners. I know many more. And, the ones I know are otherwise responsible people who just happen to own guns. They know that guns are potentially deadly weapons that must be handled safely and carefully. And, they know that failure to do so can have fatal results. These are the kinds of people who naturally get defensive when the media or anti-gun groups refer to “gun nuts,” as if all gun owners behaved in the same irresponsible way. I think this type of name-calling is not productive. Instead of alienating the responsible gun owners by lumping them in with the fringe groups, we should be appealing to them to help us limit the damage these fringe groups can do. Responsible gun owners should be allies to anti-gun advocates. It is not fair to tar them all with the same brush.
But, just like all men, good or bad, are responsible for the behavior of the worst among us (as illustrated beautifully with the #notallmen and #yesallwomen trends on social media), all gun owners are likewise responsible for the dangerous element within their ranks. No, all gun owners are not militants or lunatics. No, all gun owners are not going to carry their scary guns around in public or shoot them at innocents. And, no, all gun owners are not willing to kill or die in the fight against imaginary gun-grabbers or a tyrannical government. Most are normal people, kind and compassionate and responsible, just with guns. But, to those responsible gun owners: your right to own guns means that radicals also have that right. Your refusal to accept limitations on gun ownership means that anyone who wants a gun can get one (legally or illegally) whether they should reasonably own one or not. Your beliefs and your votes have made their actions possible. So, it is also your responsibility to help keep them from doing harm. Radical gun owners have isolated themselves from anti-gun groups, and there is no real way for our message to reach them. But, you can. You can speak to them, and you can support legislation that will limit their access to guns. You can stop spreading the propaganda that radicalizes them. You can vote for legislators who are not in the pocket of the NRA. And, you can even get rid of your own military-style weapons with high-caliber cartridges and extended magazines that have no real use in hunting or self-defense. You can help us. You can make the country safer. And, you can protect your own right to your own guns at the same time.
We are never going to eliminate all guns or the constitutional right to own them, but we can take steps to make sure that they only land in the hands of those who know how to handle them safely and responsibly. And, there are gun owners who can help us in that fight.