As a proud, responsible gun owner, I paid close attention to the president's speech outlining his executive actions on guns and studied the written proposal put forth by the White House carefully, and I can't NOT support them. I realize this may not make me popular with some gun owners, and I realize there is deep distrust of President Obama and his use of executive action. Simply put, I've always believed in being a responsible ambassador for the Second Amendment, a right that I hold dear; and, thus, I believe responsible gun owners MUST be the loudest voices for universal background checks and addressing the mental health crisis we face in this country, which form the crux of the president's proposals.
My views on this issue have been strongly influenced by my work with students in the wake of school shootings over the years. I would challenge anyone, especially fellow gun owners, to spend time with these survivors. They all have the same, haunted look in their eyes, one that frequently keeps me up at night. I would challenge anyone to listen to their stories, experience their pain and then go back the next year and the next, and see how profoundly they are affected and then do it all over again for the next school -- you'll feel the same way I do.
Universal background checks should be a no-brainer. Guns should not change hands without a background check. I cannot give my car to my children without filing a form with the DMV, and no one complains about that burden, nor do they suggest it's a veiled attempt to de-car America. Ronald Reagan, a conservative hero, wrote poignantly in 1991 that if background checks and waiting periods impacted gun deaths by as little as 10 to 15 percent, it should be the law of the land. In enacting universal background checks, Congress must fund improvements to the system and make it easy for a law abiding gun owner to transfer a gun to another law abiding citizen. It's also critically important that those who believe their Second Amendment right is wrongly infringed to have their day in Court and have a Judge review any administrative determination prohibiting them from owning a gun.
I also believe background checks should be streamlined for law-abiding citizens. A universal and robust background check process would show that responsible gun ownership is possible. Surveys show most Americans support responsible, law-abiding citizens purchasing a gun.
I have always believed that expanding access to mental health services is a national imperative. Too often, quality mental health care is a privilege of rich Americans who can pay cash, and for too long we've done nothing. It's time to do something -- we must ensure broad access to mental health services and collectively work to erase the stigma that people with mental illness face daily.
We also have to get past the meaningless rhetoric. Eliminating gun-free zones -- like schools and some government buildings -- is an impractical solution to our mass shooting crisis. (I believe the best defense is a trained, sworn, armed school resource officer in every school -- whatever the cost. Our children's safety is priceless.) Ultimately proposals like this distract from the real issue at hand: It's dangerous allowing people to acquire guns without a background check.
We can solve this problem in a way that protects society and the right to bear arms. It will require crossing the aisle and compromising. It will require both sides sitting down and agreeing we all want the same thing -- for our children and loved ones to be safe. We all agree criminals and the mentally ill should not own guns. Somehow, we have become a society where 20 elementary school kids getting slaughtered is the cost of doing business. That's not okay with me as a human being, much less a responsible gun owner.
We must find a way to discuss difficult issues like this and solve our common problems. Currently, we have a "Fox vs. MSNBC" paradigm in this country in which we scorn compromise and unity. Every night, when I go to sleep, I worry what (horrible tragedy) will wake us up as Americans -- not Democrats or Republicans, Americans.
We can do better. If you look at all the ads, the rhetoric, it's all about how divisive we can be, how strong a line in the sand we can draw to have our way. We cannot be this divisive when the safety of our greatest treasures are at stake -- our children. Today I'm pleading with my fellow gun owners to join with me being a part of the solution. This is common sense, and, ultimately, the best way to advance and protect the Second Amendment right we hold dear.
Montel Williams is a graduate of the Naval Academy and a 22-year veteran of the Marine Corps and the Navy. He went on to start the Emmy award winning Montel Williams Show which ran for 17 seasons. Follow him on Facebook.