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A Houston shooting, a child's death and a warning for responsible gun owners

Irresponsible lobbyists and politicians have told us that freedom is all that matters — and that having a gun is a simple way to stop crime. But we know that's just not true.

As Americans, there is little that is more important to us than freedom — but we must never forget that our democracy, and the freedoms it protects, relies on responsibility. Perhaps nowhere is this ideological collaboration more evident than with guns and the Second Amendment. But this all-important balance has been stretched to the breaking point in state after state, most recently in Texas.

We must never forget that our democracy, and the freedoms it protects, relies on responsibility.

Last week in Houston, an armed robbery turned into a tragedy of the worst kind. The victim of an armed robbery turned around and became the perpetrator, accidentally killing a 9-year-old girl as he fired at his fleeing attacker. The child died after being shot in the back seat of her family’s pickup truck; the robbery suspect got away. Meanwhile in Utah on Monday, a four-year-old got ahold of his father's gun and shot at police during an argument at a McDonald's (the father was arrested.)

For years, irresponsible lobbyists and politicians have told us that freedom is all that matters; and that having a gun is a simple way to stop crime in its tracks: “Shoot first and ask questions later.” As National Rifle Association leader Wayne LaPierre is fond of saying, the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. But the truth is that in the heat of a chaotic situation, nothing is simple. Chaos and tragedy too often win out.

I know this, because I’ve been a gun owner for decades; my father taught me how to take care of a firearm, how to shoot, and how to handle the responsibility that comes with having a gun. Most gun owners understand this responsibility, because they never forget that their gun can end a life in an instant.

But in a country where the NRA and the gun industry have whipped so many into a frenzy of fear and faux-patriotism, driving profits instead of responsible gun ownership, tragedies like what happened in Houston are becoming our new normal. And contrary to the claims of the NRA, there’s nothing patriotic about any of it.

Despite what the NRA wants you to believe, people very rarely use guns for self-defense. Research shows that guns are far more likely to be used for suicide or homicide than they are for self-defense. In 2018, there were 34 gun homicides, 82 gun suicides, and two unintentional gun deaths, for every one instance of a justifiable homicide. That’s hundreds of families forever changed by gun violence for every rightful discharge of a weapon. Like most gun owners, I am an advocate for our rights, but I am also deeply alarmed by these statistics.

Like the recent tragedy in Texas illustrates, adding guns to stressful situations often result in unexpected and disastrous outcomes. The story gets even worse when permitting and training is not required. In Texas today, thanks to a 2021 law, almost anyone over the age of 21 can carry a handgun.

Americans are entitled to gun ownership, but we must balance that right with responsibility. The past few years have seen a concerted effort to destroy that critical balance. Responsible gun owners know the Second Amendment does not preclude proper training and they do not support armed vigilantes who use their weapons to threaten, intimidate, and chill free speech. It's time to stop degrading our system of laws, developed by earlier generations who understood that encouraging gunfights to sort out bad guys and good guys is not the stuff of democracy.

It’s time for responsible gun owners to take back the conversation from extremists and right-wing conspiracy theorists. We know that strong gun safety laws don’t infringe on our right to carry a weapon, but they do make our country safer.

We need to stand up for laws such as safe storage, child access prevention and universal background checks to make sure that guns don’t end up in the wrong hands. This is about facts, not fear and lies. And the fact is that well-crafted gun laws aren’t designed to take guns away, but rather to ensure that lives are saved while rights are protected.

Millions of gun owners already understand that freedom means nothing if not balanced with responsibility. Because none of us is truly safe in a country that is pro-gun and anti-responsibility.