It is no secret that I am predisposed to maintaining a left-leaning stance, but I have always been relatively agnostic regarding gun rights. I grew up in a house where my father made money buying and selling guns. We went hunting together when I was a kid. He was relatively liberal on all issues with the exception of his National Rifle Association membership, of which he was extraordinarily proud and about which he was outspoken. While the only imagination most Americans have about guns comes by way of film or reports about mass shootings, I know well there are responsible gun owners, as my father was, and that for many, in this state in particular, gun ownership is not taken lightly.
And so, theoretically, I am someone who is predisposed to supporting the NRA and action surrounding gun access was never something I have felt important to speak about. But things have changed for me, and, frankly, I am embarrassed it has taken me so long for that change of heart to have taken place. To borrow from legendary AIDS activist Larry Kramer: Plague! We are in the middle of a f—-ing plague. And you behave like this.
And by “behave like this,” I mean, as had been the case for me, we take no action at all because the NRA has supplanted a realistic debate and consequent action by silence. The organization has moved far from its role as a representative for responsible gun ownership and into the arena of a lobbyist for the gun industry itself. If it were realistically interested in its role as the former, it’s stances wouldn’t be as ghoulish as we’ve come to expect. They wouldn’t blame massacres involving children on unarmed school officials. They wouldn’t stand against actions the vast majority of Americans approve to take nuanced steps toward limiting access to those who should not be armed. They wouldn’t spend tens of millions of dollars annually in exchange for politicians offering thoughts and prayers for those entangled in another massacre, as happened Wednesday after 14 were killed in San Bernardino, California, instead of putting forward legislation to close gaps.
They would not have invested in an absolutist dialogue in which anyone who suggests something can be done about gun violence is suddenly seen as confiscating every gun on the market.
Because when it comes to the NRA’s posturing versus my everyday experience, they have lost the narrative. Because when I drop my daughter off at school, I sometimes look at her and realize it is a very real possibility she could get gunned down. I squeeze her extra hard before letting her go.
I very literally am scared of the possibility that my child could be killed by an NRA-coddled homegrown terrorist.
Do you have a similar fear? Welcome to the NRA’s America. The America in which the satirical Onion headline “‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens” feels more real than the actual news. The one where people say to me, “If only there were a way to do something,” as though laws were no longer on the table. The one in which there is now more than one mass shooting daily. The one in which, last week in front of a Planned Parenthood in Colorado, a mother, a veteran and a police officer were shot to death. The one in which a mass shooting with 14 victims overshadowed the other mass shooting that happened earlier that day. The one in which we say we are concerned with liberty, and this is the price of liberty, and that price is hugging our kids extra tight because without question everyone gets a gun and the only reason we aren’t dead is because no one has chosen to shoot us yet?
The price of liberty is terror, and a body count in the tens of thousands. The price of liberty is a body count for 2015 that exceeds the number of those killed on 9/11 and accepting it as the norm.
A few days back, my wife said, “I’m really surprised that there wasn’t a mall shooting on Black Friday,” and I was surprised to agree. We are surprised when there aren’t shootings but not when there are.
I’m done sitting on the fence. The NRA zealously portends it exists to stand between the gun owner and a government that is just waiting for its opportunity to pounce — to round up the munitions and exact its tyrannical plan against the people. But the irony is that the America it helped create very likely will scare its citizenry into demanding something — anything — to make it stop.
I refuse to accept this America, the NRA’s America, as the best we can do. Without aiming to do better, you must ask yourself: What massacre might tomorrow hold for you and yours?
Alex Steed has written about and engaged in politics since he was a teenager. He’s an owner-partner of a Portland-based content production company and lives with his family, dogs and garden in Cornish.