The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

We’re combat veterans. We support the students demanding gun reform.

Students participate in a protest against gun violence Wednesday outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

On Feb. 14, America witnessed yet another school shooting. The response in many ways was typical, with partisan lines drawn and old arguments about weapons bans and mental health trotted out. The deadlock of the gun control debate has become a staple in our political discourse. Yet in the wake of last week’s tragedy in Parkland, Fla., a new group of voices has emerged alongside those of the survivors now demanding change: military veterans.

We represent some of those voices. The #VetsForGunReform movement is inclusive of those who fought America’s wars — as soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. We were truck drivers and tank drivers, fuelers and supply specialists, pilots and linguists, medics and infantrymen. Men and women. Liberals and conservatives. We grew up across America. In big cities and small towns. We were raised by doctors and lawyers, farmers and preachers.

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We volunteered to protect Americans. We joined the military for our own reasons, but all of us have demonstrated with our lives our deep and abiding love for this nation and its people.

We were trained to run toward the sound of gunfire. Now we hear such sounds, familiar to the war zones where we served, in American cities.

In movie theaters.

In nightclubs.

In churches.

In workplaces.

In schools.

Our friends, our coworkers, our fellow citizens, and our children, are being gunned down.

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Gun violence takes the lives of more than 11,000 Americans every year. We lose another 20,000 to suicide involving guns. As veterans, we are all too familiar with both, unfortunately.

We are inspired and emboldened by the brave high school students who are speaking out on the need for gun-law reform. Unlike us, these students did not volunteer to go into harm’s way. Violence came to them — in their hometown, in their high school halls. And yet, in the face of pure horror, they are making their voices heard. We are proud to stand alongside them to help amplify their message.

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For too long, the National Rifle Association has been able to influence politicians and silence debate on common sense and necessary measures to keep our children safe. The organization that once advocated for gun safety now focuses on keeping its funders in business, and its base enthralled, by promoting the proliferation of weapons of war — like the AR-15 used last week to carry out the Parkland rampage, which left 17 dead. Two of us are former NRA members. We resigned in disgust.

We have seen the effect guns have on human flesh. We’ve lost friends and brothers and sisters in uniform, seen the torn bodies, the wounds, and carry the scars ourselves. It is because we know, and what we have seen, that we feel compelled to speak.

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Veterans today are called upon to speak on many points of policy, some of them well outside our areas of expertise. However, when it comes to guns, gun violence and the effects weapons of war have on human tissue, we are uniquely qualified to offer expert testimony.

For too long, common sense reform regarding access to firearms has been a third rail in political discussions — too controversial to touch. For too long voters and lawmakers both have been complicit in the ongoing slaughter of Americans here at home. In our collective silence, and collective inaction, all of us, citizens and elected officials, veterans and civilians, are guilty.

No longer.

No longer can we remain quiet. No longer can we shelter in our digital communities of the like-minded, while the outside world continues in a horrifying status quo where cities and schools become synonymous with the massacres that occurred there. Too many cities. Too many victims. Too many sons and daughters and fathers and mothers and sisters and aunts and uncles lost to senseless violence at the end of a barrel.

While we cannot speak for all veterans, we represent the growing #VetsForGunReform movement calling upon the government to act in implementing common sense and holistic legislative reform regarding access to and sale of firearms. From universal background checks to mental health to the style of weapons sold, the government must take action based on data-driven analysis to reduce the number of Americans hurt and killed by guns each year.

We stand as those who have seen. We stand as those who know. We stand as those who committed our lives to the defense and well-being of our fellow Americans. It is time we act as decisively here on our American streets as we do overseas. It is time to stem the bloodletting.

It is time to say enough.

Lucier, Hunter and Plenzler are Marine Corps combat veterans.