In the days after my dad lost the election, my brothers and I went to shoot rounds at the local shooting range. Partly because—as anyone who knows how to use a rifle and can do so safely understands—doing so is hugely stress-relieving, and partly because, we half-joked, it might mark the beginning of the end of our Second Amendment rights under the Obama administration. Now I admit we probably thought as much because our emotions were running so high following the election, but the fact remains: The right to bear arms, and specifically the idea of it being taken away from me, is one of my biggest concerns. So it is only fitting that the 138th National Rifle Association Convention, which kicked off this morning, is being held in my own hometown: Phoenix.
If you are a law-abiding citizen who is trained to and skilled at using a firearm, then you are entitled to protect yourself and your family. You are also entitled to participate in regulated hunting and other gun sports. Both of my brothers were avid hunters when I was growing up—they still are. What’s more, both are on active duty in the military. My beloved late godfather, Jerry Dorminy, was a world-renowned hunter. He hunted everything from deer and quail to wild boars and decorated his house in Florida with every animal head he felt proud enough to mount on a wall (or lay on the floor). In short: I have had positive experiences with family and guns. It’s that simple. And it’s what allows me to think about guns in a smart, nonreactive manner.
I have had positive experiences with family and guns. It's that simple. And it's what allows me to think about guns in a smart, nonreactive manner.
Let’s get something straight: Individual responsibility and personal liberty are inherent Republican philosophies. And nothing could be more essential in protecting those ideals than the Bill of Rights. It’s no accident the second of the first 10 amendments protects the right to bear arms—and has done so for more than 200 years. Obviously, I realize the Second Amendment has been heavily scrutinized. Its simplicity is sometimes mistaken for ambiguity. But it stands as a fundamental right, ensures the conditions for a “free state,” and rewards responsible, trained citizens with the freedom to protect themselves. That’s what the NRA is truly about: providing Americans who choose to take advantage of their Second Amendment rights the appreciation for the serious responsibilities and safety precautions necessary to ensure gun owners’ safety and the safety of others.
Sadly, what should be a simple freedom has been obscured by our nation’s gun culture. Yes, there are people as fanatical about guns as others are about fashion, entertainment, music, or any other obsession. And sometimes they are portrayed unfavorably in the pop-culture world. Now, I know a small portion of them probably deserve some ridicule. But no more than any other “out-of-control” celebrity with another exploitative story. With guns, everything becomes polarized. I have wonderful memories of my godfather and my brothers and the times I’ve spent shooting with them. Still, I can also understand the astonishment urbanites express about “that nasty gun fetish” I grew up with in “good old red-blooded” Phoenix. I moved to New York City when I was 18; I still consider it home. My political beliefs have been by shaped by both of these uniquely diverse communities. The debate over the Second Amendment is one of the most divisive ones I’ve had with my more liberal friends, and it’s the biggest cultural difference I’ve seen between red and blue states. Most people I talk to—who’ve never had the experiences I’ve had—equate guns with school shootings and Michael Moore movies. There’s no denying the reality of those situations. They’re just not the only ones associated with gun ownership. (To those who have no experience shooting a firearm: Go give it a try at a rifle range, read up on the NRA, and then come to a more conclusive opinion.)
Putting it bluntly, we’ve done a disservice to our violence problems by making the political argument about guns instead of whatever causes people to be violent in the first place. Anger, alcohol, drugs, economic hopelessness, reckless driving—they can all precipitate tragedy. Simply removing guns from the equation does not solve the larger problem. Worse, it gives the wrong impression about what can and should be done to help those who are troubled. The real solution to preventing gun violence is not taking away the tools, but tackling its causes: poverty, inadequate health care, mental illness, joblessness, inadequate housing, and poor education. Desperate people will make anything a weapon. We need to eliminate desperation, not guns.
So, yes, the girl who wants to legalize gay marriage and thinks the GOP is out of touch with progressive-minded Republicans is fiercely protective of her Second Amendment rights and finds it empowering, especially as a woman, to fire off a few rounds and get closer and closer to the desired target. This is one issue where I’m red through-and-through. Last year, I heard Marcus Luttrell, author of Lone Survivor, speak at the NRA Convention in Louisville, Kentucky. His story—Luttrell was awarded the Navy Cross for his courage during a devastating firefight in 2005 that left him the only survivor of his SEAL team in eastern Afghanistan—was moving and inspiring beyond words. Besides, you can’t miss the NRA billboards as you drive around Phoenix these days. How could I not be pumped?
I find myself trying to explain to my Democrat friends—and a few Republican ones—why I remain a Republican and what I love about this party. I also feel like I am always trying to bridge the divide between red and blue, conservative and liberal, Democrat and Republican. This seems as good as any other place to begin. Gun control has become one of those "Republican issues" that the left has demonized as much as the right has demonized gay marriage. In fact, the Democratic Party is guilty of politicizing the issue to where it’s almost unrecognizable in public discourse. It's no longer about a fundamental American right of responsible, trained, and law-abiding citizens. It's about Us vs. Them. Blood-thirsty, violence-loving hicks vs. straight-laced, normal, thinking urban white-collar workers. That's wrong. The NRA is about upholding Second Amendment rights and teaching people to be responsible with those freedoms. I’m a proud supporter.
The sooner we concentrate on the real problems that lead to gun violence and not the guns, we'll get closer to saving lives and keeping our nation safer. Do I own a gun? No. I don't feel I'm skilled enough yet to keep one safely in my possession. But that doesn't mean someday I won't own one. Or several.
Meghan McCain is originally from Phoenix. She graduated from Columbia University in 2007. She previously wrote for Newsweek magazine and created the website mccainblogette.com.