By Matthew Webster


“Here’s an idea,” I said. “Why doesn’t the NRA ask its members if they’d like to volunteer to go out to schools in their communities and give talks on gun safety, and then hit all the schools with an outreach campaign offering this service?”
My conservative republican cousin was in town, and we were driving up the coast doing a little sightseeing. He likes to just throw out comments about his favorite conservative positions, completely unprovoked, as if we’re already in the middle of an argument. In this case it had to do with guns and why it was foolish to try to regulate them.

Screw this, I thought. I’m not letting this one slide. My usual M.O. is to just let it go and not take the bait. Unfortunately, this only encourages my cousin to make increasingly outrageous statements until I can’t stand it anymore.

So I laid out my NRA school volunteer idea. “There’s no point in trying to regulate guns in any way, shape, or form,” I continued, “but this is low-hanging fruit. Something like several thousand kids die every year from gun accidents, whether at home, at their grandparents or friends’ houses, or whatever. I think we can all agree that kids shouldn’t have unsupervised access to guns, and I bet there are plenty of NRA members who’d love to go out and give talks at school assemblies . . .”

“There’s no way you could regulate that,” my cousin interrupted.

“No, no,” I said, “I’m not talking about regulation; I’m talking about volunteers going out to grade schools and telling kids how to be safe around guns. ‘OK, kids,’ they could say, ‘here’s what to do if you’re hanging out with your friends and you see a gun: leave immediately. Rule number two: all guns are loaded, so you should never, ever point them at anyone or, especially, pull the trigger. Never touch a gun unless there’s an adult there to supervise.’”

“I bet there are plenty of retirees who’d love to do that,” I continued, “old guys who are into guns and have time on their hands. Maybe they have grandkids and believe in teaching young people about responsible gun use. The NRA is interested in responsible gun use, right?”

I had him. My cousin looked around uneasily. I could see the wheels turning; this doesn’t sound like “all guns all the time,” he was thinking. That’s their position: never give an inch. Bunch of people get shot in a church? Arm all the ministers. People getting gunned down in movie theaters? Require all moviegoers to be armed. How do you counter this kind of insanity?

What I was proposing was eminently reasonable and practical, and it wasn’t anti-gun, which was what my cousin was hoping for so he could argue with me. The gun lobby isn’t interested in compromise. Anything that restricts owning weapons in any way is, in their minds, a step onto that slippery slope that ends with ATF agents knocking on the door and demanding all the guns, followed by . . . who knows what.

Here’s how to talk to gun folks: agree with them. You’re right, we should be saying, it’s foolish to even think about regulating guns. What we really need to do is make sure gun owners are responsible, law-abiding citizens, and make it hard for kids, crazies, and criminals to get their hands on them.

In fact, while we’re at it, let’s propose even less regulation. The government doesn’t need to be in the gun regulation business, we can say. We can leave that to the industry and the NRA. Then the next time some disturbed kid shoots up a school, it’ll be on them, not our worthless lawmakers. Then you’ll see a real public outcry, maybe even followed by movement toward more common-sense gun policies.