This note is to my friends, relations, and neighbors who own guns.

I don’t want anyone to take your guns away. But I don’t blame you if you think I do. The National Rifle Association keeps saying it. And saying it. And saying it.

It’s true that I don’t think it takes an Uzi to bag a deer or discourage a burglar. I do like background checks and waiting periods. And no, I don’t want violent criminals to have guns.

But that’s not you. You’re responsible. Law abiding. So you wouldn’t lose a thing if we had stricter gun laws.

How have we lost sight of that?

You and I feel differently about guns. One of you loves hunting with your dad. One of you handles cash in a rough neighborhood. Two of you feel safer. A couple of you just get a kick out of the kick of a gun.

I have no problem with any of that. I respect it.

My experience is different. Two friends murdered. A dead family dog. A violent neighbor now doing life for murder. Being threatened as a grade-schooler by a teenager with a rifle.

I know you understand me, too. Our different experiences simply mean we see guns differently.

But we’re not as far apart as the NRA keeps saying we are.

For instance, you know that kids don’t need guns in their book bags, inmates don’t have a right to bear arms, and civilians don’t need grenade launchers. You wouldn’t hand a gun to an angry guy with a domestic violence conviction and a battered wife.

Likewise, I understand why cops, soldiers, and sportsmen and women have them. I don’t lose sleep knowing that a responsible neighbor has guns in her house.

No one is crusading to ban guns. We know that prohibition just creates underground markets that make criminals rich and bystanders dead.

In short, most people agree that some but not all of us should be able to have some but not all types of weapons. All that’s left to discuss is where to draw the line.

But we can’t.

Why not? Here I’ll echo the NRA playbook, which says the problem isn’t guns.

The problem is the NRA.

Once, the NRA was a grass-roots group of hunters and target shooters. But then it shifted its loyalty from buyers to sellers. That family-friendly rifle club became the profit-friendly mouthpiece of the arms industry.

In the past 10 years, it has received tens of millions of dollars from gun makers and related businesses through its Ring of Freedom sponsorships and tens of millions more from other streams, especially ad sales.

The NRA gives makers two things: more sales and less flak. It helps market guns, and it draws fire away from manufacturers and politicians whenever tragedy strikes.

That lets politicians offer prayers instead of action so makers can continue profiting. After the next massacre, we’ll hear plenty from the NRA, but nothing from Colt, Browning, or Smith & Wesson.

How does the NRA derail discussion of safety, rights, and responsibility? By supporting candidates and by lobbying. In 2016, it gave half a million dollars to congressional candidates. In 2017, it spent $5 million on lobbying.

One result: it has persuaded Congress to stop funding gun violence research — information we could all use. Without facts, it’s hard to make progress. And progress is what the industry fears.

If the NRA is the problem, are there solutions? We might elect candidates who don’t take its money. Or challenge its Chicken Little-style lies and half-truths. Or reform campaign-finance laws.

But first and foremost, we can stop blaming each other. You and I aren’t the problem.

When he signed Florida’s new gun law, Gov. Rick Scott said, “I know the debate on all these issues will continue. And that’s healthy in our democracy. This is a time for all of us to come together, roll up our sleeves, and get it done.”

Can we? Yes. But it’s hard to hear each other over the shouting of the NRA. And we need to hear each other to begin that long-delayed conversation about creating laws that protect both our rights and our lives.

Charlie Bernstein lives in Augusta.


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