A peacock, safety, and the NRA

With the news of another school shooting, my heart is heavy again. It is horrific that these acts of violence continue to plague our children. I know for me I will take better aim on my gun safety advocacy. I’m doing what I can for another group of victims, the ones we’ve lost because of gun negligence. There’s much talk about control. I have been adding my voice about safety. Gun tragedies, like the accident that killed my son, claim many lives, too. I have a story to share and safety to teach. Gun owners must make changes, too.

I believe I can support Moms Demand Action without being anti-gun ownership. I’m anti-gun negligence, a position that makes a place for gun owners to support my work teaching gun safety. I’m inside of gun safety organizations like Moms Demand Action, and Everytown for Gun Safety—but I sometimes feel like I’m a peacock.

In my neighborhood lives a peacock. I don’t see him year round. He disappears in the winter. I don’t know where he goes. But every Spring he returns. I usually hear his screeches start in late March—early in the mornings and late in afternoons.

I was out walking the dogs when I heard his familiar cry. I’d been hearing them for weeks, but for some reason on this day I decided to find him. He was in a neighbor’s yard— feathers down, standing in the driveway.

As I got closer I snapped a picture, then watched as he trotted toward the shrubs to hide near my neighbor’s garage. My bulldog and golden were oblivious, too busy sniffing the familiar spots in the grass with deer droppings. I stared at the peacock for a few more minutes, then walked away. I looked over my shoulder one last time and noticed him coming out of the bushes. I slowed my pace long enough to see what he’s curious about.

Peacocks seem like one of a kind birds. There’s only one in my neighborhood, and I’ve read that they call out looking for another peacock. That’s me right now, calling out, and calling in places like Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action.

I went to Washington DC last month to call on a Senator. It was part of the fellowship training Everytown gave me to be an advocate. I was lucky to be chosen. Well, not that lucky, because those chosen all have lost a loved one.

The group of fellow survivors I met in DC is still with me in my heart. After our work together, Diana and Katy sent texts wishing me safe travels home. The trip was fellowship training, but turned out to be much more. We bonded, forming a family.

But while I am one of these survivors, along with 37 other people who have survived gun injuries or deaths, I know I am different. I’m an advocate who is working for safer gun ownership, to make owners responsible and accountable if they’re negligent. Accidents can kill, like the one that killed my son.

Inside of Everytown, or Moms Demand Action, I feel that family bond around our losses. I stand for a common ground, though. Before we can make changes about ownership of guns, and availability, we have to start with awareness of guns in our lives. We’re all at close range.

I didn’t feel close to the Senator who we were supposed to be meeting, because Sen. Tillis wasn’t in the room. Like a lot of lobbying meetings, a few staff members listened to my story, and stories of other survivors of gun tragedy.

I call them tragedies because that’s what every fatality and injury has in common — crime, mass shootings, or negligence causing fatalities. The first two subjects are getting lots of attention now. The negligence, though, kills far more people than the other tragedies.

In a way I feel like I am in the right place, talking about guns and safety. I have something different to say. Everytown and Moms want diversity in their ranks. Not just racial diversity, but political, too. “Let’s get Republicans out for the Wear Orange meeting,” one volunteer suggested. Good idea.

My idea is to get gun owners, responsible ones, into the Wear Orange meetings. Their homes and cars and offices are where the guns are. They can take the first steps to making our world safer.

I told the senator’s staff I belong to the NRA. I told them I was a gun owner, and that my son owned a silencer for his gun. The bill we lobbied against will make it easier to buy a silencer. It doesn’t need to be easier. My son Lance says it’s not hard to buy one.

Our fellowship trainer Aimee said, “You’ll be met your lobbyist in the Dirksen Senate Building hallway. He’ll give a brief explanation to the senator’s aide about who you are and why you’re there.”

We met as planned—me, two other gun violence survivors, plus a lobbyist. When I walked into the senator’s boardroom with three other survivors, the lobbyist sat quietly. I told my story right away as I introduced myself, even before the lobbyist had a chance to explain why we were there. After all of these years, my story is still at the surface of my life, ready to bubble over. I was nervous, too.

John, a middle aged man from Henderson, North Carolina who had been shot while entering a Detroit television station, told his story first after the introductions and the lobbyist’s explanation about our position on the bill.

Then Susan spoke. A sweet grandmotherly woman from Winston. Her daughter had been killed by an abusive husband. Now it was my turn. I rubbed a stone in my pocket, the one from my training welcome bag that said, “Courage.”

First I forgot to introduce myself. Shit. Then I blurted out, “I lived in Boone. We have a business there, a car dealership. And my son died while he was in college.” I pulled Jon’s picture from my purse, and pushed it toward the aide. I wanted him to get a good look at my son.

He nodded, along with a colleague, but neither touched Jon’s picture. The younger aide took notes. The older one talked about parts of North Carolina with each of us. He talked to me about Boone and Appalachian State College. He then asked, “Was the owner of the gun was over the age of 21?”

“Yes.”

“Was the gun purchased legally?”

“Yes.”

I knew from my briefing with the Everytown staff woman that at some point I needed to reveal my gun ownership and my NRA membership. Everytown’s trainers saw that as a powerful part of my story. This particular senator receives money from the NRA and votes in favor of less gun regulation.

I waited for my moment. And boom! I started talking. “My son owns a silencer. He purchased it through the current law. He passed a background check and did the waiting period. Why change? Let’s keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. I’m a gun owner and an NRA member. We need to find common ground.”

The aide looked at me and agreed. He was closing the meeting and said, “Yes, we need to find common ground.”

Shared that kind of story with a senator’s aide is different from the stories I shared with other Everytown advocates. Most of them don’t own guns, and I’ve met nobody who’s in the NRA.

That’s my diversity. Gun owner. NRA member. Mom who wants guns to be safer by stopping the negilgence.

I know I can be an NRA member and a Moms Demand Action Member. I don’t know yet if I’ll find another peacock while I’m calling out. Calling in DC. Calling in Texas, at local meetings.

In the meantime I’m still speaking up, teaching gun safety to PTA moms and dads as often as they’ll have me. When I tell them my family owns guns, they nod, understand, and respect that.

Peacocks are a unique bird, but they’re not one of a kind. They seem that way, because you don’t seem them together much. Maybe I’m a peacock who wants other birds around.

I think I got my message across. I need more practice. More Be SMART presentations. And what does a peacock have to do with all this? Another thing I learned is why peacocks screech. They’re looking for a mate. Me, being an NRA member and a Moms member, I’m looking for mates. Kindred spirits, middle-of-the-road sensible thinkers. Am I the only one out there? My trip to DC made me wonder, but it didn’t stop my searching.

My memoir At Close Range includes an idea about making our world safer with a basic talk with kids about gun responsibility. I want to hear from my gun-owning friends about how you can teach more safety. Leave me a comment.

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