Of all the polarizing issues dividing our country today, guns remain among the most contentious.
No one has perfect answers for how to lessen gun violence in the United States, while preserving the rights granted in the Second Amendment to the Constitution. But it’s clear that the status quo is untenable.
In the past several years, we have seen far too many people killed and wounded in shootings in schools, churches, concerts, nightclubs and many other places across the nation.
Yet Americans haven’t been able to agree on what to do next and on how far new gun measures should go. Still, no one wants to accept the current level of gun violence as a given anywhere in today’s America – whether in Chicago or Parkland, Florida.
Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords of Arizona, who was shot in the head and suffered permanent injuries in 2011, heads an anti-gun violence group called Giffords, along with her husband, retired astronaut Captain Mark Kelly.
The group gave Fox News an early look at a new TV ad designed to bridge cultural and political divides on the issue of gun safety.
The organization is launching an ad campaign to highlight an important constituency that is becoming increasingly vocal in the gun debate: prominent U.S. military leaders and veterans.
The new ad features retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, who experienced war firsthand during his over 37 years in Army.
In the first scene, Hertling opens a box on his desk containing 253 cards with the names and photos of soldiers under his command who were killed in combat. He ties the pain he felt on their deaths to the pain parents must feel losing a child to gun violence.
It is immediately clear then that this is a new kind of gun safety advocate.
This ad is one in a series of five narrated by retired military leaders. The Giffords group is planning veterans’ events around the country to foster discussion on the gun issue.
So why are these retired members of the military getting involved in such a contentious debate now, and why so publicly?
“We’ve all seen the tragedy associated with gun violence up close and personal and we’ve all used weapons, we all own weapons, and we all believe in the Second Amendment, ”Hertling told me in an interview. He will also join “Benson & Harf” on Fox News Radio this Tuesday between 6 and 8 p.m. EDT.
“But we also understand,” Hertling continued, “that we are plagued by this disease of gun violence, and we really need to do something about it.”
This new ad campaign is worth paying attention to, especially for gun owners who might otherwise be hesitant to consider the message. It could be significant for the gun debate moving forward, because the ads rely on the words of nonpartisan military leaders who can’t be dismissed as “liberals who just don’t understand gun culture.”
Hertling, for example, has never identified as a member of any political party. That’s an important fact that could help overcome the caricatures each side has about the other in the gun debate and bridge some of the often nasty divide that leads many people to simply retreat to their corners.
“We’re all guys who know how to solve problems and know that even the toughest problems you can’t just take sides on, you have to build consensus and find solutions,” Hertling told me. “This is a problem in America, and the data proves it. To just put up a wall and say: ‘We’re not going to listen to anybody that we might assume is attempting to adjust our Second Amendment rights’ is not understanding what the problem is.”
Interestingly, some previous skeptics have begun trending towards more openness to possible gun reforms, after mass shootings have continued to fill the news.
This appears in part to be a reaction against the increasingly partisan and strident tone of some gun organizations like the National Rifle Association, which used to operate on a more bipartisan basis.
Military veterans like those in the Giffords campaign exemplify a subtle but important shift: members of a group that often resisted talking about the gun issue publicly now believe something different has to be done. They are willing to speak out in the hopes of prompting a better national conversation.
We all want to live without fear and we want our liberties and freedoms protected – all of them. We are a nation that always believes we can improve and do better. That idea is infused in our Constitution and in our DNA. Americans don’t throw in the towel and decide there are problems too big to be tackled – that’s not who we are.
So as we struggle through how to make our nation safer for our citizens and protect people from gun violence, the voices of those who have served our country in uniform should play an important role in that debate. We owe it to ourselves and to our children to listen to what these veterans have to say.