02/11/2013 01:23 pm ET Updated Apr 13, 2013

What I Learned About Guns Growing Up in North Dakota, and How the NRA Could Not Be More Out of Touch

Growing up in the rural state of North Dakota, I remember how guns played an integral part of our culture. The first day of hunting might as well have been a holiday, as half the school would empty out to go be with their friends and family in the woods. It was always around this yearly ritual that the community came together to be with family, brag or commiserate about who got the buck with the most points. This yearly ritual is as much a part of the North Dakota fabric as the long cold winters.

As we as a nation come together to discuss how we can make our communities safer, it's important to acknowledge the real place that guns have in the community. Moreover, it's important to acknowledge the actual law abiding people in the community who have created a culture of respect and personal accountability around guns. This respect and accountability could not be more apparent than in rural America where kids are taught how to responsibly handle guns and I never once felt unsettled by a gun rack in a pickup truck, as I knew the respect that hunters gave their destructive force.

I've never been a fan of folks who are gun-averse and stereotype those who have actual experience with guns. It hurts the gun violence prevention movement to paint all responsible gun owners as wackos and zealots. They should be looked to for guidance and as the model of responsibility.

Yet, rather than support responsible gun culture and uphold the responsible gun owners, the NRA and Tea Party Republicans, play to the lowest common denominator. Instead they drive up fear and create mistrust in American communities, then propose the answer to an ever increasing rate of gun violence, is more guns. Let me be clear, the NRA does not represent the hunters I grew up with in North Dakota, it represents the gun manufactures who see their profits go up every time Wayne LaPierre goes on TV calling for more guns.

While the NRA and their Tea Party allies preach the second amendment, it could not be more evident; they are out of touch with the average American and even the average gun owner. Even now, many ardent gun supporters are calling for reforms. Most notably, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, who we all remember made waves when he shot a rifle in a 2010 campaign ad, recently said "everything needs to be on the table." On assault weapons he went on to say "I don't know anyone who in the hunting or sporting arena that goes out with an assault rifle. I don't know anybody that needs 30 rounds in the clip to go hunting."

Closer to home here at Democracy for America, our founder, Govern Dean, also received an "A" rating from the NRA while he was Governor of Vermont, but echoed Sen. Manchin's sentiment stating on a CNBC interview, "you do not need an assault weapon to hunt a deer." Even our membership, which is staunchly progressive on most issues, tends to be more pro-gun, has evolved on the issue, with over 80,000 people adding their name to support immediate congressional action on an Assault Weapons Ban.

So what is next? Our members are already leading the way on calling for comprehensive actions to curb gun violence including an assault weapons ban, magazine limits, and a universal background check with no loopholes. You can join them in the fight by adding your name to our petition here.

Remember, it's not just the assault weapons ban -- this is a vital but basic minimum level of action. The sad truth is that while massacres, like the one at Sandy Hook, garner the most attention in the press, most gun deaths come in the ones and twos, not 10s and 20s. The time is now for a larger discussion to make our communities safer, uphold law abiding gun owners as examples of responsibility, and avoid scapegoating violence in the media and the mentally ill. It is only once we label the NRA and any of its supporters as an extreme fringe group, that represents the interests of gun manufactures, will we be able to achieve our goal of safer communities in America.