An Open Letter to My Friends Who Own Guns


Friend –

I know that you’re a responsible gun owner, and that you take gun safety very seriously.  I know that you cherish your freedom to own and bear a weapon, and that you may be wary of some whom you perceive as extremists with an agenda to outlaw individuals’ right to possess and bear arms.  In this letter I want to be sensitive to your positions on questions of ownership, control and the safe and appropriate uses of guns.  After all one of you is my brother, whom I have loved and respected my whole life.

National polls tell me that most gun owners, like most of all Americans, support common sense measures that would be effective to keep guns out of the hands of those with criminal or mental health records.  I feel pretty confident that you’re among those.  You may even agree that military-style semi-automatics with high capacity magazines, designed to maim and kill multiple targets quickly, could reasonably be restricted from the civilian marketplace.  And many of you might be open to persuasion that licensing, and record-keeping that would help law enforcement solve violent gun crimes, wouldn’t threaten the liberties of responsible law-abiding gun owners.

After all, anyone who knows the Bill of Rights knows that “well regulated” are the first non-trivial words in the 2nd Amendment.  Arms have always been regulated in this country, from outright confiscation as a condition of entrance to Dodge City to the more modern prohibition against shoulder-mounted missile launchers.  The question isn’t whether to regulate, but how to regulate, how to maintain a balance between freedom and public safety.  Or how to restore that balance once it’s been upset.

Well, today in Roseburg, Oregon, we got another clear demonstration that the balance is out of whack.  You’ve heard it before, you know it’s true, we live in the only modern society on the planet that hasn’t figured out how to keep its people safe from random gun violence.  Please don’t tell me the solution is to arm more of the good guys.  Oregon is a concealed carry state, there were armed students, including armed veterans, on the campus during the shooting, and they were able to do nothing to stop it.

We will only restore the balance through new laws that apply well-known common sense constraints, those already supported by a majority of law-abiding gun owners, on gun trafficking.  And the main obstacle to getting it done is the political power of the National Rifle Association.

If you’re my age, you’re old enough to remember when the NRA saw its mission as promoting gun safety, providing education and training in the safe and appropriate use of weapons, and supporting effective gun control laws.  In pursuing that mission, they represented the views of the gun-owning Americans who made up their membership.

Today’s NRA is not your father’s.  Their current leadership is the main lobbying arm of the gun manufacturing industry, and bears no allegiance to the views of its members.  Their purpose is to maximize profits in a shrinking marketplace, and that means the only solution to gun violence they support is more guns, bigger guns, easier to get, carried anywhere concealed or open.

If you share that view, then I apologize for wasting your time to read this far.  And I wonder how we got to be friends in the first place.

But if you’re one of the many gun owners who’re willing to try some approaches that could make Americans safer in their schools and shopping malls, and you’re still a member of the NRA, then I have an urgent request for you.

Stay in the NRA.  Work to replace the association’s leadership with those who will represent the views of the members — your views — and will make gun safety a higher priority than gunmakers’ profits.  Remove the NRA as a roadblock to progress and return it to its role as a national partner for training, education, gun sports and above all, gun safety.

Your country needs you.  You’re the only ones who can do it.