Using Guns as Political Weapons

By Rich Harwood

I grew up in a small town in upstate New York where lots of people owned guns for hunting. Now, each summer, alone with my two dogs, I go for two weeks to a cabin in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains; this is even more rural and remote upstate New York, where even more people own guns and hunt. Hunting is an act of joy for many people. But when guns become a political weapon, nothing good comes of it.

On March 24, thousands of students and others from around the nation will meet in Washington, D.C. for March for Our Lives. This movement is an outgrowth of the shooting one year ago at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, where seventeen students and staff were gunned down and seventeen wounded.

Sadly, such heinous and inexplicable mass shootings are now commonplace in the U.S. Think Columbine, Aurora, Charleston, Pittsburgh and Newtown, among others. Then think about Chicago, Baltimore and other cities and locales where gun violence is not a horrific anomaly but a gruesome part of daily life.

Just this past week, the world witnessed yet another mass shooting at two Mosques in New Zealand, where 50 people praying were killed and scores more wounded.

I was personally involved in helping Newtown make a decision about what to do with the Sandy Hook Elementary School after the massacre there. I saw first-hand just a small portion of the pain and suffering and trauma that community suffered. No one, anywhere, should have to endure such avoidable pain.

As deaths from gun violence mount, the debate over gun safety and gun control ebbs and flows. The March for Our Lives movement has recently heightened attention to these issues by stirring a new, younger generation of political activists.

The debate these young activists are generating is good for the country. But not all debates are equal. While students march, groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA) have turned these debates into hateful and dangerous speech.  

A recent New York Times article highlighted some of the techniques used by NRATV, a vital NRA communications arm.  One host called gun-control advocates “tragedy-dry-humping whores,” and another said, “all radicalized terrorists are Muslims,” which is just factually wrong.  (Some NRA leaders have condemned the actions of some hosts on NRATV and are now reviewing its activities.)

Meantime, the state Democratic Party secretary in Maryland reportedly called attendees wearing “We Will Not Comply” t-shirts to a recent Maryland House of Delegates hearing on gun control measures “terrorists in the making.”

Using guns as a political weapon perilously distorts and denies productive debate. Absolutely nothing good comes of it.

I know from my own personal experience that so many Americans love hunting as a way of life, harming no one. I also know from personal experience that guns bring senseless deaths that create endless hurt.

This much I also know: When guns become political weapons, no one wins. As the March for Our Lives takes place, my hope is that we can have a real debate about the future of guns in America.