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Chris VanDijk Headshot

30 Years, 61 Mass Shootings.. Can We Talk About It Yet?

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Friday morning, I spoke to my writing partner, Ambarish Manepalli, and we sent off two scenes for a network diversity showcase in Los Angeles. The scenes, from a screenplay we'd written a few years ago, is one of our favorites and the script is one of our next projects.

The script is about two office drones from accounts payable who are bumbling their way through their first job as hit men. (It is registered with the WGA, so, no, you can't steal the idea...)

The end of one of the scenes is as follows.

_________

INT. WALT MART SPORTING GOODS SECTION Ñ MOMENTS LATER

Walt and Mikey flanked by fishing gear, camping equipment and
badminton sets. In front of them is an arsenal. A wall of
guns and ammunition. A pimply high school kid stands in
front of them. A SIGN sits on the counter.

Walt reads it.

WALT
No background checks, no waiting
period, no permits required.

MIKEY
Wow.

WALT
Welcome to Wal Mart.

_________

A little jab at the ridiculousness of our gun culture? Yes.

A funny bit? Sure.

Deadly serious? Absolutely.

We hit "send" and off went our bit of tongue in cheek comic brilliance. Only the two of us knew the truth of our script: That Mikey and Walt never end up using the guns. This was not a political decision, just worked in the scheme of the film.

As filmmakers, we're now even more conscious of what we want to put into our film, what images we want seen on screen.

After submitting, I went to the park with my toddler, passing the school where we go once a week for a pre-pre-K class, and we ran and played. Then I checked my phone for email and dipped into Facebook.

I wish I hadn't.

Twenty children and six adults, dead.

One gunman.

This is becoming all too common in this country and it is unbearable.

There was a flurry on Facebook and Twitter. Expressions of grief, outrage and the typical gnashing of teeth associated with a mass shooting. (There were three this week, in case you're keeping score.)

And there was also the immediate call from gun advocates that, "This is not the time to discuss gun policy."

You're correct. That time was 30 years and 61 mass shootings ago.

I grew up with a healthy respect for guns, taught to me by an uncle who made sure my cousins and I were educated in gun safety. I'm not a hunter, fishing is more my speed, but I have no problem with people having guns. None at all. I will say that if you need an assault rifle to hunt, you're doing it wrong. If you need one to protect your home, you might want to rethink what you're doing that would cause an army to invade your house.

But, I truly don't want your guns. I'm not asking for a ban on guns. Seriously.

I do want us to have a conversation about them. I do want us to discuss the gun lobby and their power in the halls of our government. (I lump the NRA in with the manufacturers, not gun owners. It's been a long time since they actually represented the desires of gun owners...)

For the last 30 years the gun lobby has dominated the debate. When there's a tragedy, they tell us it's not the time to discuss gun policy. When there's not a tragedy, they sit on the shoulder of our elected representatives and remind them of campaign cash given and the promise of more.

It doesn't matter what party. Republicans suck at the teat of the gun lobby with glee and Democrats are too feckless to do otherwise.

This time the victims aren't adults strolling through a mall or grocery shopping at their local Albertsons or watching a movie. The perpetrator is not a high school kid who has been bullied and taking revenge on his peers. This time it's an adult with a history of mental illness who took his mother's legally purchased weapons, killed her, and then went into a classroom of six and seven year olds and killed them.

There's a rule in movies: "You can't kill the child. The audience will disengage and hate your movie." Why? Because it hits too close to home. Parents project their own children on to that child on screen.

Just like every parent projected his or her children onto every victim in Newtown.

I did it. I knelt down in a sporting goods store, my child asleep in his stroller, surrounded by toddler sized soccer balls, and cried. And I spent the rest of the day holding him any time I could. My wife came home after work and sat on the floor, Turtle in her lap, and immediately engulfed him in hugs and kisses.

The people who make and sell guns have, for 30 years, had advocates and lobbyists to pursue their best interests in Washington. It's not about the Second Amendment, which is often mis-stated as "the right to bear arms, shall not be infringed." (The actual text says: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." People forget the pre-amble.) This fight has been about profit. Gun manufacturers have a product to sell. Relax gun laws and you can sell more powerful guns. Keep gun owners scared that some unseen boogey man will take away their arsenal, and they'll buy more and more.

It's time those of us who don't own a gun have the same kind of voice.

It's time that those too young to own a gun have advocates.

It's time we reclaim the discussion; pry it from the cold, dead hearts of the gun lobby, and talk about sensible measures that will ensure gun owners their right to have their guns but that protect the vast majority of us who don't have them.

According to Think Progress:

"a poll conducted in May (2012) by Republican pollster Frank Luntz for the group Mayors against Illegal Guns, gun-owning Americans, including National Rifle Association (NRA) members, overwhelmingly support a raft of common-sense measures typically described as "gun control:"

1. Requiring criminal background checks on gun owners and gun shop employees. 87 percent of non-NRA gun-owners and 74 percent of NRA gun owners support the former, and 80 percent and 79 percent, respectively, endorse the latter.

2. Prohibiting terrorist watch list members from acquiring guns. Support ranges from 80 percent among non-NRA gun-owners to 71 percent among NRA members.

3. Mandating that gun-owners tell the police when their gun is stolen. 71 percent non-NRA gun-owners support this measure, as do 64 percent of NRA members.

4. Concealed carry permits should only be restricted to individuals who have completed a safety training course and are 21 and older. 84 percent of non-NRA and 74 percent of NRA member gun-owners support the safety training restriction, and the numbers are 74 percent and 63 percent for the age restriction.

5. Concealed carry permits shouldn't be given to perpetrators of violent misdemeanors or individuals arrested for domestic violence. The NRA/non-NRA gun-owner split on these issues is 81 percent and 75 percent in favor of the violent misdemeanors provision and 78 percent/68 percent in favor of the domestic violence restriction.

The poll, which sampled 945 gun owners around the country and had a margin of error of +/- 3, also found broad support among gun-owners for the principle that "support for 2nd Amendment rights goes hand-in-hand with keeping illegal guns out of the hands of criminals." In fact, more NRA members (87 percent) supported the statement than non-NRA members (83 percent)."

Maybe it's time for we non-gun owners to unite with reasonable gun owners and force the NRA to represent it's member's best interests, the best interests of all Americans, not the industry.

Maybe I'll start with the guy who showed up at my son's school Christmas party brashly wearing his NRA hat in the middle of an auditorium full of elementary school kids -- the same night as the Newtown shooting. It displayed the kind of insensitivity that has marked our national discourse on gun control and gun safety for the last 30 years, but maybe, just maybe, if we have this conversation, we'll find common ground and can effect change.

Today, I'm adding this to the list of things for which I advocate for my son.

The true tragedy is that I even have to.

Chris also writes for the NYCDadsGroup and on his own blog, skinned knees in short pants.

This post appeared on the blog skinnedkneesinshortpants on the Saturday morning after the Newtown school shooting.