Gun lovers like me should be advocates for sensible regulation

Gun Rights

It’s a common refrain among responsible American gun owners like myself that mass shootings are not our fault, and we should not be penalized with burdensome restrictions as a result of them.

I get where that argument comes from. I use the AR-15 I carefully custom built for target practice at gun ranges. Its low recoil makes it easy to shoot, its modular design means it’s simple to maintain, and since it’s the same calibre as military weapons of a similar pattern, ammunition for it is very affordable. When I’m not at one of those ranges, it stays locked up in a multi-thousand-dollar safe, or a secure travel case.

As a keen hunter, I use some of my other much more powerful weapons to put the healthiest and most ethical form of protein on my family’s plates and in their dog bowls – and to ensure our safety both in our homes and in public. The closest any of this gets to a mass shooting is that I’d like to think I’ll be prepared to defend our lives should we ever find ourselves caught in one.

How would restricting my ability to train, hunt, or defend my loved ones help keep other people safe?

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I ask that question rhetorically because I believe this is an inherently flawed argument, created and spread for the express purpose of manipulating how gun owners vote. By participating widely in the culture wars dividing American society, and by remaining absurdly absolute in its opposition to gun safety reform of any kind, I fear that the National Rifle Association (NRA) is actually going to achieve the very thing it says it stands against, and wind up compromising our Second Amendment right to own guns.

The NRA’s century-long progression from an organization promoting marksmanship into a wholly political entity is well documented elsewhere. The organization does not disclose membership statistics, but is today believed to count only two or three million dues-paying members in its ranks. The NRA’s single largest donor is the oil and gas industry, and the organization spends much time lobbying against animal conservation and environmental causes as a result: in effect it lobbies against the interests of hunters, often enough.

Perhaps the most succinct description of the NRA’s current purpose comes from convicted Russian spy Maria Butina, who infiltrated the organization and in 2018 described it to her handlers as “the largest sponsor of the elections to the US Congress.”

In the wake of 2012 school shooting in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, in which 20-year old Adam Lanza murdered 20 school children and five adults with an AR-15 he obtained from his mother, who he also killed, the NRA famously declared: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

The organization opposes gun safety reform of any kind, instead arguing that more guns are the solution to mass shootings.

And the NRA takes those views further as it participates in the culture wars. Its representatives have mocked teenage survivors of the Parkland, Florida school shooting; likened gay soldiers to pedophiles; and aired an illustration of Thomas the Tank Engine wearing a white Ku Klux Klan hood on NRA TV, a streaming video channel. Amid all that, one thing remains glaringly absent: any argument for what role guns might play in a healthier society.

“The NRA figured out that radicalization, hate, fear, racism – those things could gin up a populace to vote in irrational ways,” writes former firearms industry executive Ryan Busse in his tell-all book “Gunfight.”

Busse goes on to describe a culture within the gun industry that uses any attempt at gun safety legislation to raise money, drive sales, and politically radicalize gun owners. Rather than lend its expertise to any discussion about saving children’s lives, the NRA and the gun industry it’s intertwined with instead profit from mass shootings.

While it is extremely unlikely that any significant gun safety reform will become law in the immediate future, this sort of behaviour virtually guarantees that gun rights will be on the chopping block – wholesale – at some point not that far down the road.

In 2020, one in ten eligible voters were members of Generation Z – people born between 1995 and 2012. In the 2022 midterms, which typically see lower turnout than Presidential elections, that number was one in eight. Some 27 per cent of the entire generation turned out for that election, one of the highest voter participation rates for any generation in an American election. While Baby Boomers – the generation born between 1946 and 1964 – still far outnumber young people at the polls, that will continue to change. The average life expectancy for Americans has fallen to just 77 years, the same age as the oldest Boomers.

And Gen Z is not pro-guns. According to a poll conducted by Harvard’s Institute of Politics before last year’s election, 70 per cent of likely voters aged 18-29 favour stricter gun laws, a 15-point increase since Sandy Hook. 58 per cent support banning assault weapons (like my AR-15) altogether. A hefty 47 per cent support changing the Second Amendment. And 53 per cent have an unfavourable view of the NRA.  

Similar statistics hold true for other issues in which the NRA has sought to align the identity of guns and gun owners on the side repugnant to American young people. Where only 18 per cent of Baby Boomers told a Walton Family Foundation study that their 2022 vote was influenced by concerns about racism, 30 per cent of Generation Z said that it was a critical issue. According to a Gallup poll conducted in February, only 2.8 per cent of Baby Boomers identify as LGBT. That number for Gen Z is 20.8 per cent. Fully 40 per cent of Gen Z identify climate change as one of the top three most important issues facing the world. Generation Z is the first to grow up with mass shooting drills throughout their entire career as students. Guns are now the most common cause of death for children in this country.

By resisting gun safety reform altogether, while aligning the public image of guns with racism, homophobia, environmental destruction and dead kids, the NRA and the firearms industry have positioned guns and gun rights in opposition to an entire generation of politically active voters. The writing is written on the wall, and as a keen gun owner that makes me mad.

There’s another problem. By doing everything it can to prevent people who actually know something about guns getting involved with firearms legislation in any way, the NRA has helped to make sure that the few gun laws which have passed are ill-conceived, useless and burdensome. Perhaps the most obvious example is California’s assault-weapon regulations, requiring foolish plastic fins to be added to the grips of guns such as the AR-15. This affects the weapon’s deadliness not at all, and actually makes it less safe and controllable.

The NRA would regard this as success, as such rules polarise American gun owners against any form of regulation, driving them into the hardline camp. However it has also drastically limited the public’s imagination about what might be possible if we all worked together to create sensible and effective change.

Right now, it’s common to think that “gun control,” means attempts to ban certain types of firearm – or maybe all of them. What if, instead, the debate was around mandatory training, insurance and tiered licensing?

Subsidizing gun ranges and employing trainers would expand opportunities to shoot, and create more expert shooters. Sales of ammunition and quality firearms and their components would benefit. Insurance rates would financially incentivize responsible practices like safe storage. Accidental gun deaths would fall. And tiered licensing would encourage practice, again bringing a net financial gain to the industry.

Unlike geographic bans on gun ownership, or the types of people who can own guns, or on specific types of firearms, there is Constitutional precedent for mandatory training. When the Second Amendment was written, individual gun ownership was considered important so that the nation as a whole could resist the tyrannical aspirations of European empires. And it was critical to the success of those militias that members were proficient with their weapons. The “well regulated militia” that our forefathers wrote of, being necessary to the security of a free State, is a well trained militia.

Training, responsibility, and civic participation wouldn’t just make the presence of guns safer for all Americans, it would help us gun owners create a cogent argument for why guns still belong in our society, in the coming decades when Gen Z with its values comes to dominate the electorate.

Why isn’t that a part of the conversation right now?

Because the organization which claims to represent gun owners, and does represent gun makers and the fossil fuels industry, is preventing such mature discourse from taking place.

Unless we change things, we risk that grown-up discussion never happening at all. If us gun owners are not going to be the ones to stand up and start the conversation, who will?


Wes Siler is an American outdoorsman, hunter and writer. He lives in Montana with his wife, Virginia, and their three rescue dogs

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