I’ve spent my entire life around guns.
When I was 12, my dad gave me my first shotgun. As I grew up, we spent hours and hours hunting together. That was our quality time with one another – hunting was how we bonded.
My education in firearm safety also started young. My father was determined to make sure I understood how important respect for firearms is, and what can happen if you aren’t careful.
After high school, I set off for West Point, where shooting was no longer a hobby – it was a professional skill. While at West Point, I logged countless days on the range, learning to operate weapons that were new to me – like the M-16 rifle – and honing my skills. I remember learning that the 5.56 mm ammunition used in assault rifles is intentionally designed to slow down upon impact so that it can tumble through the victim’s organs and inflict maximum casualties.
Following graduation from West Point, I commanded two Special Operations companies – small forces structured to complete the most physically and politically challenging missions. Multiple times a year, year after year, we underwent recertification on the weapons that were most central to our mission. Going to the range was treated with the utmost of gravity and military discipline. There was no joking around on the range. Every single round of ammunition was accounted for every single time.
I left the Army after completing nine years of service. Right around that time, the shooting at Columbine High School happened. I was heartbroken and horrified to hear how the weapons I had trained to use so carefully – including weapons that don’t belong in civilian hands – had been used in a school to end the lives of 13 innocent children and educators.
I never would have imagined that nearly two decades later, gun violence would still plague our communities. Gun violence still takes an average of 96 lives a day in our country. And, as the years have passed, we’ve mourned the lives taken at mass shooting after mass shooting – Sandy Hook, Aurora, Virginia Tech, Orlando, Sutherland Springs. The list goes on and on.
Recently, we’ve added two devastating school shootings to the list – Parkland, Fla. and Santa Fe, Tex. As a mom to two young children, these shootings have forced me to reflect on who we are as a nation. I find myself wondering: Should we be homeschooling our children? I increasingly wonder if they are safe in their school. With school shootings occurring once a week on average, I would have to be a fool to think “it can’t happen here.”
I don’t want homeschooling to be the solution. I want my kids – everybody’s kids – to go to school, play and learn with their friends, and be confident that they will come home to our family at the end of the day. I want our kids – everybody’s kids – to be safe. Evil flourishes when good people shutter their windows and hide. Evil flourishes when people with privilege – people like me – engage in conceptual debates about protecting ourselves from government tyranny (good luck against a drone strike) when every day we lose 96 of our brothers and sisters.
I know that as a country, we can do better. If we work together, we can fix the gun violence problem that plagues our communities. We are the people who put a man on the moon. Surely, we can find a way to stop shooting our children. We must lean into our discomfort together across all sides of this issue and find common ground.
Oh wait – we already have common ground. We need to stand firmly in that common ground and not allow the gun lobby to purchase our politicians who have done absolutely nothing to prevent these tragedies. And we need to not be duped by elites using wedge issues to divide us. We have so much more to gain by standing together across this issue and many others.
The reality is that we know a lot about how to prevent gun violence. For example, we know that in states that require a criminal background check on every gun sale, lives are saved. Many people who commit mass shootings have a history of red flags – and we know that disarming people who have demonstrated that they are a threat to themselves or others helps reduce firearm suicides. We know that every single civilized nation in the world does better on this issue than we do, so I recommend we also suspend our arrogance long enough to get curious about what they’re doing.
As a veteran, I’m intimately familiar with the destructive power of firearms. And, I know how important it is to make sure they don’t fall into the wrong hands. I also know that many Americans look for leadership from veterans on issues like gun violence prevention.
That’s why I’ve joined with fellow veterans and Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun violence prevention organization, to launch the Everytown Veterans Advisory Council. The Council will enable military veterans to play a critical role in ending gun violence in America, providing advice and perspective to policy work around the country.
I’m committed to creating a safer America for my kids to grow up in. I hope that veterans – and Americans from all walks of life – will join us.