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Debate gun violence with facts
Disagreement over the 2nd Amendment is no reason to abandon the 1st Amendment.
Almost 50 years ago, as a University of Wisconsin undergrad, I was asked to debate our involvement in Vietnam before a student audience. My opponent was a member of the Madison City Council and a self-described leftist who spent most of his time denouncing conservatives as racists and enemies of individual liberty and freedom of speech.
I spoke first and, as my opponent made his way to the microphone, he announced that he wouldn't dignify my arguments with a rebuttal other than to say that "come the revolution," he looked forward to my being put up against a wall and shot. The subsequent standing ovation was quite an endorsement of the value of civil discourse.
At about the same time, a group of UW students decided to start an alternative conservative newspaper. Reaction came in the form of threats to toss a Molotov cocktail into the paper's office, an idea that couldn't be dismissed on our turbulent campus.
Threats don't convince
These events weighed on my mind as the NRA braced for a firestorm of hatred in the days after the horrific mass shooting in Newtown, Conn. A university professor suggested that NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre be beheaded so that the more thoughtful among us could display his "head on a stick." People who should know better told the NRA's receptionist that we were "responsible" for the actions of the lunatic who killed 20 schoolchildren.
Someone posted on my son's Facebook page that I ought to be killed. When my son and his sister posted in response that that they were not me and that, in any event, they consider me an OK guy whom they don't really want killed, the response was swift: The man suggested that perhaps it would be better that they be killed, "so that your dad can suffer the loss of his children." Nice.
I have wondered over the years at the intolerance of the political left. If those of us on the right were to engage in such over-the-top rhetoric, we would be rightly attacked by the news media and justifiably marginalized. Column after column would be writtenabout how people like us are a danger to civil society because we reject the rules that allow such a society to function without violence. Too many establishment liberals not only mock conservative ideas, but also see those who hold them as either marginally deranged or, as a Homeland Security report suggested a few years ago, as potential terrorists.
The "gun question" has always sparked heated debate between those of us who believe in the constitutional right "to keep and bear arms" and those who disagree. It's a legitimate debate, one the NRA welcomes. Fortunately, facts matter to the millions of Americans who — whether they own firearms or not — aren't so easily convinced that we would be living happy lives in a violence-free utopia if we could just ban guns.
Protect honest Americans
Americans are a practical people and, in the wake of a tragedy such as Newtown, they want answers. We want to know how we can prevent the next such tragedy, how we can protect our children, and in seeking answers to those questions Americans want facts, not feel-good measures that have never worked in the past and aren't going to work in the future. That's why the NRA and its members are willing to discuss the role of firearms in these tragedies: We realize, as our virulent opposition does not, that the facts and statistics are clear. Restricting firearms sales to honest, law abiding American citizens will do little to prevent violence and much to undermine the core values of a free society.