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Three Words Lead Young Men Across the Bridge From NRA Parroting to Independent Thinking

12/28/2012 06:26 pm ET | Updated Feb 27, 2013

At a gathering recently, I heard some young men and their fathers discussing the 'joys' of gun ownership. One young man was cajoling an older woman to let him kill at least one of the deer she enjoys on her property because "they taste so good," he said. Then, during dinner, three of the young men and I discussed/debated the issue of owning guns. It seems that a continuation of our conversation might be of use to other young men, as well.

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Dear Fellows,

I enjoyed our discussion on Christmas Eve about the NRA-gun situation in America because we spoke respectfully, though some of us differ, in exchanging ideas and opinions. As we spoke, I noticed a few things which I'd like to pass on to you now.

I noticed that in the arguments of fellows who approve of multiple gun ownership, some phrases kept cropping up -- "my right", "liberal media" are some. I didn't hear anything about social responsibility, yours or the NRA's. Only your asking me whether I thought the "corrupt, corporate-controlled" federal government or the states should control gun and ammo allocation.

I sensed that, as emerging adults, you weren't really thinking so much your own thoughts, but repeating words you've heard again and again from adults (I picture swaggering adult men in your life, bragging about the number and power of their guns), repetitions from your conservative Fox News and, of course, the high priest of all -- the NRA leaders, who blame everyone but gun owners for the incredibly high incidence of gun-related murders in the United States of America. The swaggering men is a generalization, of course; as you know, not all gun owners are irresponsible or immature.

I realize that numerous American gun owners relate more to 18th century necessity than they do to our 21st century society. They equate democracy with owning guns for 'protection'. And with their masculinity. Maybe it would be wise to think that through.

At the end of our discussion, I asked you to try and make the argument for the opposite position from yours -- in your own thoughts, not to be mentioned to anyone else -- so that you can better understand. I asked you to evaluate your position objectively. Continuing that thought, I would further suggest that as you think about it you remove all cliches, labels and adjectives from your internal discussion; just stick to the bare facts.

When you fully understand the other side's position, then you can decide on your own whether you will stick completely to your original ideas or you can see merit in assuming some of the values professed by people who oppose or wish to restrict ownership of guns.

You are decent young men, and as you are inclined to refer to yourself and other gun owners as "sane, responsible citizens" (the exact words continually repeated by NRA leaders), you might ask yourselves if the gun issue defines you, or if you are more multi-dimensional than that. What is your role in the betterment of society? Just to marry, earn a living, pay taxes and raise children? When you think about it, you might realize that you can do those things and so much more to really fulfill your potential.

One of you is a college student, and you say you're on the way to becoming an educated person. Well, education is not just acquiring knowledge; education results from weighing words and experiences of others with your own values and experiences (inner and outer) to determine your positions for yourself. Education is the combination of knowledge and wisdom.

Learn to see things as they really are. When you are thinking that the NRA's objective is to protect your rights as a gun owner, remember that the gun industry is a lobby -- no more, no less -- worth $13.6 billion, and their sole objective is to protect the wealth of their leaders and gun manufacturers, who pay them. Eight years ago, Wayne LaPierre's compensation package was $1 million. What he earns today is not publicly known; we can only imagine. Why do you suppose they pay him so much?

If they were to achieve their objective of getting guns in every school in America, wouldn't that increase their bottom line! After the schools would come shopping malls, churches, sports stadiums -- until every aspect of our American lives would be gun-related and NRA leaders would be wealthier than we can even imagine. Is that the country; more importantly, are those the values you want to pass on to your children?

Remember, in just a few years you will probably be fathers yourselves; you will want to be prepared to guide your children in their thoughts as well.

One of the most important lessons you can teach your sons is that growing into real manhood only begins with the maturing of your body. What marks the difference between adult children and real men is courage; the courage to follow your own values, even if they move away from family tradition. Even if you move away from the friends and culture in which you were raised. As I've learned, sometimes the child (you) can even lead your elders.

Back to the gun culture; if every home and venue were to have guns for protection, that would mean everyone is living in a fear-driven culture, and I can't see much pizzaz in that. For me, a courage-driven approach is much more exhilarating because that way shows us how much more we can achieve and enjoy than we might have, at first, thought possible. I'm not talking about reckless, impulsive actions; I'm talking about a well-thought-out courageously optimistic approach to living.

As I was driving to the party that night (an hour-long trip, alone, in rain and fog, a good bit of it on pitch-dark winding country roads), I chatted with myself: 'I could have just cancelled my visit to stay home where it's safe, and they would've understood.' But I didn't; I decided to go ahead, drive a bit slower, and be careful; it worked out beautifully. I tell you this, my young(er) friends, so that you can begin to think in terms of courage-driven lives.

When I decided to take up water-skiing (on one ski) again at the age of 70, a lot of other people would've thought that was ridiculous; 'what if something happened?' they might have said. But, living a courage-driven life, I decided to give it a go, and see what I could still do. What did happen is that now I'm in my third year of training to ski again this summer, and I'm having a blast. You can read about my return ski journey on The Huffington Post.

And, for whatever it's worth to you, I have lived by this quote from "Around the World with Auntie Mame" (Patrick Dennis): "Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving." My life has certainly kept me filled, and I don't own a gun!

For young men favoring ownership of guns without really understanding why, I have great anticipation for your evolution as independent-thinking, caring young men. You and I may not agree on the issue, but I certainly agree that you're entitled to your well-thought-out opinions.

If, after thoroughly, objectively analyzing your positions on the issue, you still decide to own them, at least you will be deciding, with your own reasons, to continue -- possibly with some modifications in your overall plan, to include participating in a courage-driven mutually supportive society. I wish you and all other emerging men the very best you can be.

Oh, by the way, have you figured out the key three words? They're courage, analyze and evaluate. Go get 'em, guys!