I’ve been around firearms as long as I can remember. When I was 10, my father pulled his nickel-plated revolver from a small safe and taught me how to check and make sure it was not loaded. For my 11th birthday, he gave me a safety course at our local range and my first rifle that he taught me how to shoot.
When I was in high school, he gifted me a lifetime NRA membership. My father explained that the NRA was an organization of like-minded sportsmen focused on training, safety and firearm enthusiasm.
This week, I canceled my NRA membership because the organization has strayed from that mission. Instead of focusing on building a culture of responsible gun ownership, the NRA is driving greater division and fear at a time when our country needs just the opposite.
In the more than 25 years since my father introduced me to shooting sports, I’ve spent countless hours behind weapons of one variety or another — shooting cans on my uncle’s farm, bonding with family over countless hours at target ranges near our home, and shooting clays with my grandfather’s shotgun.
I even competed on my high school’s small-bore shooting team. And — after graduating from the Naval Academy — I was honored to serve as a Marine Corps infantry officer, leading teams employing weapons large and small in Iraq and Afghanistan.
My years of experience with weapons taught me a lesson that the NRA has forgotten.
It taught me that firearm training, safety and accountability are crucial. In the military, these basic principles are the bedrock of a capable fighting force. We went through extensive safety training and testing before we were even allowed to hold a firearm.
As a Marine, the fact that weapons take human life was self-evident. This fact was foundational in all of our tactical training and also was the driving factor behind our intense focus on weapon safety and accountability.
We were taught — and we learned firsthand — why it’s so important to keep firearms out of the hands of people who have the intent to do harm. We learned that people with a history of violence have no business operating a lethal weapon.
In recent years, our country has been rocked time and again by senseless gun violence. I, like many Americans, have looked to the NRA for leadership as we deal with this cycle of gun violence.
What I found wasn’t just insufficient; it was corrosive and divisive. Incoming NRA President Oliver North’s cry of “civil terrorism” and his crass reference to Jim Crow do nothing to advance important issues for responsible gun ownership. His words destroy the NRA’s credibility rather than reinforce it.
Meanwhile, NRA board member Ted Nugent has needlessly and cruelly attacked survivors of the Parkland, Fla., school massacre — cutting sharply against my core values and beliefs as a veteran, a gun owner and an American. He’s the personification of the current state of the NRA: loud, foulmouthed, paranoid and completely undeserving of my money or attention.
The NRA of today is no longer the “civil rights organization” it once was. It’s a political cartoon.
The group has forfeited its ability to represent American gun owners like me. We are no longer, as my father once said, like-minded. There are real problems with guns falling into the hands of people who shouldn’t have them — problems that deserve real debate grounded in real solutions, not divisive rhetoric. We need an organization to represent gun owners across the political spectrum in these crucial conversations.
That’s why I’m so proud to be a founding member of the Everytown for Gun Safety Veterans Advisory Council — a new initiative that will enable military veterans to play a critical role in ending gun violence in America. The council will provide advice and perspective to a conversation centered on gun violence prevention.
As veterans, we will lend our voices to this critical movement for common-sense gun laws in America. And we will provide a forum for honest conversations about how we can save lives while respecting the rights of gun owners, something the NRA has failed to do.
Through the council, I will continue to support solutions to improve firearms training, safety and accountability while preserving the Second Amendment, just as I have done my entire life. But I will do it without the NRA. If you’ve served your country and are tired of the gun lobby’s divisive platitudes, join me.