Former GOP insider explains how politicians exploit gun culture: Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and the real reason why no one can talk sense about guns

"The problem is that the pro-gun culture has become a symbol of defiance of government overreach"

Published January 18, 2016 1:00PM (EST)

Ted Cruz, Donald Trump   (AP/Jose Luis Magana/Reuters/Brian Snyder/Photo montage by Salon)
Ted Cruz, Donald Trump (AP/Jose Luis Magana/Reuters/Brian Snyder/Photo montage by Salon)

Nobody can look at the number of gun-related tragedies in American in recent years without seriously questioning our laws and our attitudes regarding guns. Too many on the left see government-based proposals as the only solution, and too many on the right reject those proposals without recognizing the problem or offering solutions of their own. In the case of gun violence they are both right and they are both wrong.

I am a strong supporter of gun rights and oppose strict gun control measures, but you don’t have to be for more gun control to be against gun violence. The truth is that government shouldn’t have to take your guns away, because the very real evidence of the dangers of gun ownership should be enough for you to do the smart thing and rid your homes of guns.

Most Americans, including me, support required background checks before purchasing a gun, but let’s face it, most people don’t go out to the store to buy a gun to do something terrible. Those who commit crimes or take the lives of themselves or others usually have guns that are readily available in their homes or the homes of their law-abiding family and friends. The logical way to reduce gun violence is to reduce the numbers of those readily available firearms.

Some argue that if everyone was armed then everyone could defend themselves with their gun. The fact that gun ownership is at an all time high in this country, and gun-related deaths continue to rise, discredits that theory. That’s one reason why my view of guns has changed over the years. I grew up in a gun-owning household, but I’ve never owned a gun as an adult. There have been a few times, though, when I have thought that I should have a gun for protection.

A few years ago, I investigated and looked at a few different models of handguns after an incident of violence happened to me. I wanted to get a gun, but decided that it’s just too dangerous. I ultimately came to the conclusion that I am not comfortable carrying a deadly weapon around with me all the time.

There has to be a cost-benefit analysis. I had to decide if it was really worth the risk. The chances are pretty slim that I will ever be in a life-threatening situation where the only solution is having a gun. That doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t be prepared to protect myself, but a gun isn’t the only option. I’m more comfortable carrying pepper spray in my backpack to have if I am ever in a situation where I need to disable an attacker. There’s virtually no risk of my pepper spray being used by anyone to take an innocent life. That’s absolutely not true of a gun. There are too many possible scenarios that could lead to something going terribly wrong if a loaded gun is always readily available.

I do also think that target shooting is fun, but there are other recreational activities that I can do without turning a deadly weapon into a toy. That doesn’t mean that I am never going to own a shotgun or rifle for hunting purposes ever again, but there’s no reason for me to have a handgun in my life.

Personal protection and recreation aren’t the only reasons some people carry guns. Gun ownership is fundamentally part of the culture in America, and whenever public policy and political issues interact with culture those issues become very emotionally charged. The problem is that the pro-gun culture has become a symbol of defiance of government overreach, and gun ownership makes some feel powerful when they feel powerless to the government in so many other areas of their lives. That’s definitely part of the emotional component of gun ownership for some who carry.

That’s why the anti-government sentiment and the anti-establishment culture on the right has become more and more pro-gun. It’s fueling the presidential campaigns of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and others who are tapping into that emotion in their campaign messaging. All of the top GOP campaigns recognize that cultural reality and are exploiting it.

If we really want to reduce gun violence then it’s important to recognize that cultural and political reality, too. So, proposing government regulations is the least likely way to be effective. There’s also the legal reality that the Second Amendment ensures that we all have the right of gun ownership. Reducing the number of gun-related deaths means that we should do more work outside of the purview of government to reduce the prevalence of guns in America. It’s certainly not the government that’s going to help pro-gun Americans to realize that their guns are making our country more dangerous, not more safe. It’s public awareness, education and their friends and family that are going to change their minds about guns.

I know that some of my friends on the right will call me names or imply that I am afraid of guns or too weak to handle them, but the truth is that I am smart enough to comprehend the danger they pose. It’s a danger that I find no compelling reason to risk bringing into my life or the lives of others, no matter what my views of the government are. I hope more folks will start to see it this way. It’s ultimately the way we are going reduce gun violence and save lives.

By Jimmy LaSalvia

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