Over the past few months, I've been asked a few times about whether I would ever seek the NRA's endorsement or accept campaign contributions from them?
The answer is No.
Arguably, the greatest barrier to making progress on so many issues comes down to the power of the special interests, and the greater opportunity for making money, the greater the influence of their campaign money on our elected officials. Think about what the oil and gas industry has done to efforts to tackle climate change, or the power of Big Pharma on drug prices. The gun lobby (primarily the NRA) is arguably the most powerful of all special interests. In the early 2000s, I was actually an NRA member for a period of time. Back then, the NRA was about gun owners. Today, it has morphed into a lobbying group for commercial gun manufacturers. I don't recognize the current version of the group.
The gun lobby's mere ability to stifle any reasonable efforts towards tackling the epidemic of gun violence is the greatest obstacle we face in dealing with gun safety and strong policing of existing laws. When it is able to maintain a 22-year federal ban on agencies like the CDC using funds to study the problem from a public health standpoint, it is preventing us from even having an informed starting point for discussions, and last year's sabotaging of bipartisan legislation to improve the gun-sale background check system -- right after two horrific mass shootings (Las Vegas and the Texas church massacre) -- should remind us that this is as much Congress' fault as it is the deranged mass killers who use the weapons.
For example, federal law requires you to be 21 to purchase a handgun, but in many states anyone 18 or older can buy the AR-15, a semi-automatic version of the military's M16, on which I was trained. That means a 19-year-old can't buy a beer and can't buy a handgun, but can buy an assault weapon.
As a nation, we desperately need to have a conversation about guns where we bring to the table the concerns of both those in the cities as well as the rural areas. Beyond the common sense measures that should have been enacted long ago that even gun owners support (background checks for private sales and gun shows, barring purchases from anyone on no-fly or watch lists, meaningful efforts to keep guns out of the hands of felons, domestic abusers, and the mentally ill, and funding our CDC and NIH to study the epidemic as it does every other scourge), we need a honest conversation about what are willing to tolerate as a nation.
When do we discuss who should have access to what are essentially weapons of war (like the AR-15)? Or high-capacity magazines? What about the value of a federal database of gun sales, or a broader discussion about concealed carry? Or an analysis of the benefits and costs to mandatory liability insurance, like we do most other things that we own that can injure others?
We need to have an adult conversation as a nation, and we must have input from people with different points of view -- without the gun lobby dictating the terms. But it's time for all of us to come to the table and talk it through. We simply can't do that as long as the gun lobby continues to buy off politicians.
We also need members of Congress who have some credibility from both sides of this debate, haven't sold their political soul to the special interests in advance, and who respect rural culture and its unique relationship on this issue.
I fear that if a mass gun killing of school kids at Sandy Hook Elementary won't spark an honest national dialogue about guns, then I don't know what will. As a gun owner, I very much respect the constitutional issues at stake. They're important. But as a mother of three young children, I am terrified by our unwillingness to deal with gun violence, both the mass shootings and the thousands killed by handguns in our cities each year.
I'm not going to suggest there are easy fixes to these protracted issues. Even if you stopped mass shootings, what about all the handgun violence? Lawful gun owners shouldn't be penalized for the actions of bad or ill people. But this is an American problem, not that of a single political party, and it requires us to sit down together to find solutions where everyone must give a little from their preferred position. Otherwise, we let the fringes dictate the terms of this debate, and everyone loses -- except them.
We should begin with the items that have overwhelming public support: tighten enforcement when it comes to preventing the mentally ill from purchasing any weapons, bar purchases by people on no-fly or terror watch lists, and if you have to undergo a background check at a licensed gun dealer (as I have), you should not be able to evade that by obtaining a weapon at gun shows or privately. Otherwise, background checks are worthless. I also support current efforts to restrict alterations on firearms to get around federal restrictions, like bump stock.
Beyond those initial measures, we need our leaders to show allegiance to the voters, not to special interests, and sit down and work together on long-term solutions. This is not going to be solved overnight.