What specific measures do American gun owners support to reduce shootings? The answer depends on which gun owners you ask. A Pew survey published in June 2017 found that among gun owners who belonged to the Republican Party, 75 percent backed requiring background checks on all gun transactions, including private sales. But among Republican gun owners who were also members of the NRA, support for universal background checks dropped to 52 percent. When The Trace embarked on “The NRA and Me,” our series of interviews with current and former National Rifle Association members from across the country, one of the questions we asked the gun owners we heard from concerned their ideas for curbing gun violence. Below are some of their answers, a few of which defy political and cultural expectations. Responses have been edited for clarity and space.
Fully fund the background check system
Eric Walton, 46
Project manager, New Orleans
Joined NRA around 2005
If it’s important enough to pass the law, it should be important enough to fund it properly — sometimes at the expense of other things, because there’s only a limited amount of money, despite what folks think.
If we’re going to have background checks, we should have really good background checks. A lot of the background check stuff that’s out there, is dependent on states sending information to the FBI to be compiled. If the states don’t send in information because they don’t have the money to collect it and send it, then that information never gets in the system. Every time a debate comes up about whether or not there should be more laws, we go, “How come we’re not enforcing the laws that we already have?” That doesn’t mean that we should never have more laws, it’s just, “Hey, we already went through the debate about all these other laws in the past. We already spent the intellectual capital and sometimes the physical capital to pass these laws, we should at least enforce them.”
More action by federal law enforcement
Ralph Myers, 76
Advocate for Victims of Violent Crime, Bellingham, Washington
Joined NRA in 1993
I don’t want to sound like a cliche of the NRA, but to me, if you want to reduce gun deaths, you’ve got to enforce the laws on the books. You’ve got to make sure that the people who have been convicted of felonies or domestic violence, or who have mental health issues, whatever the case may be — that we stop those people from getting guns. The guy that killed my son, he was a felon. That didn’t stop him from gaining access to a gun.
I sincerely feel that rank-and-file police officers do the best they can in cracking down on illegal gun sales or possession of them by persons that legally shouldn’t possess them. It’s state and federal law enforcement that fail in doing their jobs.
Expand gun restrictions for mental illnesses
Glomani Bravo-Lopez, 30
Deputy chief of staff, NYC Council member, Brooklyn, New York
Joined NRA in 2009, left around 2012
A big thing that pushed me to leave the NRA was the fact that every year since I left the military in 2009, I lost friends who were in the service. They had easy access to firearms, and they used them to take their own lives.
Some of them were diagnosed with PTSD or traumatic brain injuries, but they were able to legally acquire firearms with no red flags. We should have better systems in place to keep folks suffering from ailments like that away from firearms.
Teach firearm safety in schools
Beth Alcazar, 42
Firearms Instructor, Chelsea, Alabama
Joined NRA in 2000
I would support more schools bringing firearms safety back into the curriculum, where students are at least getting the information, even if there are no guns in their home. That’s super important.
We’re already teaching kids about fire drills, tornado drills, the possible threat of a mass shooter, and even safe sex — we’re pushing this information on our children so they can make wise decisions.
Education is so important, even for those who do not want anything to do with firearms. Hopefully, they’ll recognize things to do, and not to do, if they ever come across one, rather than have that panicked moment because they’re dealing with something they don’t know or don’t understand.
It’s similar to how we would approach any other important topic. You don’t want your kids to go out on their own and learn it from TV or movies or friends or by mistake.
Shut down bad apple gun dealers
Don McDougall, 58
Green Energy Consultant, Camarillo, California
Joined NRA in the late 80s
If you have a gun store that’s regularly selling firearms to people who shouldn’t have them and allowing straw sales, close it down. No gun owners will object. We’re not going to say, “You’re closing down a gun store! Stop it!” We’re going to cheer you on for preventing illegal gun sales.
Crack down on stolen guns
Khalil Spencer, 64
Scientist, Los Alamos, New Mexico
Joined NRA in the 70s, left in the 80s
My understanding is that a lot of the guns used in crimes are stolen. When you have a lot of guns around, and they’re not stored right, they’re a target-rich environment for theft. Around where I live, there have been two big break-ins into poorly designed gun stores. There’s also an awful lot of property theft and residential theft. If you leave your gun laying around, guess what? The crooks are going to have it the next day. In New Mexico, we need to pass a law requiring people to safely store their weapons and provide some tax incentives for them to do so.
Require licenses for gun ownership – and rethink assault weapons
Dan Singer, 35
Army veteran, San Jose, California
Joined NRA in 2011, left in 2017
As much as it might sound authoritarian, I think a reasonable action would be to license people for gun ownership. We already license people to drive a vehicle, and the intended use is to get from point A to point B. At the end of the day, about as many people die from car accidents as guns. So the car itself can serve as a weapon. Why would we not want to ensure a little bit of safety by licensing items whose intended use is to inflict harm upon a human being or an animal?
Here’s something else on my list, but I don’t put it on the top because I am conflicted. I do understand the “collector aspect” of being a gun owner. But let’s be honest. At the end of the day, does anybody beyond those avid collectors really need an assault weapon? I think everyday gun owners can table those desires in favor of the greater good.
When you say assault-style weapons are OK, because of cosmetic differences that separate them from assault weapons, you’re creating a cultural acceptance around assault weapons. We normalize their presence and diminish the sense of danger one should have with these weapons. Just as we would frown upon a picture of a 5-year-old holding a toy AK-47 in Gaza, we should find such imagery equally repugnant here in the United States.
That can be painful to accept for people who have that passion for firearms, who are perfectly normal, contributing members of our society, and will not do anything illegal.
But for us to make any meaningful change, we have to weather through some of those difficulties. We’re seeing our country kind of go through a number of very significant shifts in the way we perceive a number of various issues: with the #MeToo movement, and our new, national awareness of racism in the country. I think it’s time for a similar cultural shift around guns.