Around 1990, I was living part-time in rural Vermont. My wife and I had horses at the time and frequently she would be alone while I was working in Boston. It was during this time period that I bought my first 20-gauge shotgun. I hoped that if it came to it, my wife and I would have a way to scare away black bears that frequented our land or if necessary, put an injured animal out of its misery.
I am still a gun owner and, when I have time, I love to shoot skeet and sporting clays. I strongly believe in the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms and believe that other responsible Americans should be able to own a gun if they choose to as well.
I am also keenly aware that firearms are inherently dangerous and the presence of a firearm in the home can dramatically increase the risk of accidents, suicide and homicide. However, I face these risks by taking every precaution to own and store guns in the safest way possible.
I believe that, as a gun owner, I have a responsibility to my family and my community to store my gun safely, locked and unloaded. I also have a responsibility to advocate for responsible gun laws that help keep guns out of dangerous people's hands. That includes being willing to submit to a background check every time I purchase a firearm and expecting buyers to submit to a current background check if I sell them a gun. Furthermore, I believe that if I misuse my gun, for example if I violently threaten a family member or allow a child to gain access to a loaded and unlocked firearm, I should be held accountable for my actions.
And I am not alone on this. There are many gun owners who agree with me.
According to Pew Research, 85 percent of people with guns in their home support universal background checks. Another more recent poll puts that number at 92 percent. A third poll found that 74 percent of NRA members supported mandatory background checks. That leaves somewhere between 8 percent and 26 percent of gun owners and/or NRA members who are opposed to universal background checks. Does that mean that 74-92 percent of gun owners are anti-gun? That can hardly be the case, but that is what the gun industry and their special interest lobbyists want you to think. The NRA's own website calls highly supported universal background checks "anti-gun."
Background checks are not the only policy that most gun-owners support. A majority of gun-owners also support outlawing the sale of semi-automatic weapons and online sales of ammunition. Again, the NRA and their gun industry benefactors vehemently oppose these reasonable gun safety measures.
By the NRA's and gun industry's logic, any attempt to regulate an inherently dangerous product makes a person against the product entirely, and yet history (and logic) tells us that regulation of a product does not necessarily indicate hatred of a product. Imagine turn of the century meat packers accusing fried-chicken-lover Theodore Roosevelt of being anti-meat because he created the agency that would eventually be known as the Food and Drug Administration. All he wanted was higher food standards and more sanitary factory conditions. Or imagine calling the 74 percent of Americans who oppose lowering the drinking age to 18 as anti-alcohol, despite the fact that 71 percent of adults drink alcohol sometime during the year. Imagine a country where toy guns are regulated with a multitude of manufacturing and consumer protection standards but real guns that result in 83 deaths and 150 injuries each and every day are not. Well, you live in that country.
Roosevelt, the average American drinker, a majority of gun owners and the National Consumer Product Safety Commission, who are still prohibited from regulating real guns, all have a common mission: to save lives. Being concerned about the thirty-thousand-plus gun deaths each year in the United States does not make you anti-gun. And advocating for policies that make a dangerous product a little less dangerous just means you care about saving lives and countless grief from preventable firearm injuries and death. However, this message is so controversial that the gun industry, who thinks the Second Amendments trumps the First, wants to silence it.
Last week, Stop Handgun Violence, a nonprofit I co-founded over 20 years ago, unveiled a public service billboard campaign with dozens of donated billboard spaces across Massachusetts. The billboard message was simple: "We're not anti-gun, we're pro-life: Massachusetts gun laws save lives." How did the NRA and gun industry respond to this message? Like bullying thugs-harassing the billboard companies and executives until they removed the signs.
Some of the billboards may be down because of special interest gun industry threats and intimidation. The vast majority of Americans are not wrong about responsible gun laws. Urban industrial Massachusetts, with it's responsible gun laws and low firearm fatality rate, is the gun industry and NRA's worst nightmare -- gun laws save lives and we will not be silenced.