Since then, much has been made of those comments — some of it accurately reflecting what I said, some not. Because I am an A-rated, lifelong member of the National Rifle Association and a proud defender of the Second Amendment, some people viewed my comments as a tipping point in the debate about guns in America.
The true tipping point, of course, is what happened in that elementary school on Dec. 14 — the unimaginable slaughter of 20 children and the teachers and staff members who were defending them. When children die tragically, it rips at our very hearts. Even in our grief, we demand a reckoning.
That reckoning is now upon us, and we owe it to those children and their families to take it seriously. As a nation, we must reconsider the treatment of the mentally ill. We must challenge a popular culture that accepts stomach-churning violence in our movies and video games. We must look at the use of high-capacity ammunition magazines and military-style assault weapons.
Committed gun owners like me can and must listen to reasonable ideas about preventing mass violence. But whatever steps we take must be comprehensive — and must bring the entertainment industry and mental health community to the table. We cannot snap our fingers, push one-track legislation that focuses exclusively on guns and pat ourselves on the back. Such an approach certainly won’t fare well in Congress. More important, it won’t fully address the problem.
I truly appreciate President Obama’s intentions to “push without delay” a set of recommendations to address the kind of madness we witnessed in Newtown. However, an administration-led approach, without significant input from the entertainment, gun and mental health communities, will not meet the crucial test of credibility. It excludes too many of the voices that must be heard if we’re going to get this right after so many decades of bitter stalemate.
If the administration fails this credibility test, and if it takes a guns-first approach without addressing the other factors at play, we will be no closer to resolving this problem than we were in the days before the horror in Newtown.
No matter how strongly any one of us holds our positions, we all must be willing to respectfully hear each other out — elected leaders must hear recommendations from the mental health community; gun-control advocates must listen to gun rights supporters; the entertainment community must listen to those who want to see less violence on their screens. And vice versa.
If we let irrational fear and antagonism control the debate, then we will continue to be a nation of violence. We need leaders who can be open-minded. We can’t villainize those who disagree with us, and we can’t dismiss their legitimate concerns outright. We cannot pay lip service to those perspectives; they must be the driving force of change.