I'm A Gun Owner, And This Is The Necessary Next Step To Address Gun Violence In America

Let's pray. Then let's change the law.

In the aftermath of the October 1 mass shooting at a Las Vegas music festival, the national debate over gun policy has intensified. Politicians and the constituents they represent are polarized over the issue, and, in the resulting gridlock, it's understandable that some Americans feel as though there is nothing that can be done. We spoke to Ashton Kutcher, co-founder of A Plus and a lifelong gun owner, about where we should go from here. As told to Isaac Saul.

I got my first BB gun when I was 8 years old.

I remember going out to the country for target practice and getting the safety talk from my dad when I was growing up in Iowa. He told me to never point it at anyone. When I was 12, I took a hunter's safety course and learned the ins and outs of gun safety, then finally got my own real gun.

We'd practice shooting guns at Boy Scout camp. I'd hunt pheasants and rabbits as a 12-year-old, and I eventually started hunting deer. At 13, I worked at a gun range and pulled trap for sportsmen who came out to shoot. When I got older, I bought a handgun. I still have it locked away in a safe. In 20 years, I've only felt the need to take it out inside my home on two occasions. 



My whole life, I never really thought of guns as weapons or associated them with self-protection. I always thought about them relative to target practice and hunting. But now, that's changing.

What happened in Las Vegas is a travesty. I felt the same way I felt when I heard about the shooting in Sandy Hook or at the Aurora movie theater or the hundreds of other mass shootings that have happened since then. It's an absolute misuse and abuse of firearms. As news about the shooting spread, I tweeted that we should pray and then we should change the law. And I mean that: let's take the time to pray, let's think about and remember that people lost their lives. People died. Families are going to be devastated. Let's embed that in our hearts and feel it. Any change of laws we're going to have should be about improving people's lives, so let's lead with compassion.

Then let's go find a solution.

Residents gather at an October 2 candlelight vigil for the victims in Las Vegas. Pulsipher Photography / Shutterstock.com.
Residents gather at an October 2 candlelight vigil for the victims in Las Vegas. Pulsipher Photography / Shutterstock.com.

I believe I can relate to both sides of the issue. I understand the want and desire to own a gun for sport, for hunting, or for self-protection. Even after having kids, I felt more inclined to own a gun out of a desire to protect them. But let's also acknowledge where we are: this country has a huge problem, an epidemic of gun violence we have to address. We are in a position where we have two bad choices. Either we stay the course and continue to live in the world we're living in now — where what happened in Las Vegas is the norm — or we take a half measure and make some progress. 

I believe the latter is the better of two bad choices. I believe there is some common ground we can find, and it doesn't make sense to me that it's not happening. 

If you're a gun advocate, understand that we can't simply continue doing what we're doing, which is nothing. It's not just about protecting our rights — it's about protecting our citizens and our children. My own thinking has shifted in terms of the right to bear arms insomuch as the founders set out to give you a tool to protect your land and form a militia to protect against a tyrannical government. But those days are gone. There isn't a realistic militia in this country that could protect us if the government really wanted to use the weapons they have to put us down. There is no functional need for a citizen to have a semi-automatic or automatic weapon, and the risks of giving the average person access to them have clearly outweighed the rewards.

If you're a proponent of gun control, understand that you're not going to get everything you want. The more you advocate for "banning all guns," the less chance you have of ever making any progress. Yes, there is data to support that bans have worked to reduce violence in other countries. If there was a new law to turn in your weapons, I'd be the first in line. But it's not going to happen. It will always come back to the arguments that the good people are going to turn in their weapons and the bad people aren't. That this is just one step closer to taking away all of our guns. You're never going to win those arguments.

I think we need to start by addressing mental health and how it relates to gun laws. Any mental health professional will tell you it's important to keep weapons out of the hands of people who want to harm themselves or others. Suicides account for almost two-thirds of all gun deaths in America. So let's create laws that stop people who have a higher chance of hurting themselves or others from getting a gun.

Number two is addressing the procurement of weapons. It's far too easy to get a gun on the open market in this country. Even if you want to drive an automobile, which in many ways is just about as dangerous as a gun, you have to go through stringent regulation and training to use it. You get safety courses. You get trained by someone more experienced than you. You go through a waiting period. You take a test. You get punished for misusing it or operating it when you're intoxicated and you lose your right to drive. These are simple, sensible regulations we can apply to guns.

Third is addressing the sale of ammunition. The right to bear arms should always be protected by the Constitution, but we can tighten the regulations on the sale of ammunition. This would be a great starting point for mitigating the amount of gun violence and the number of mass shootings, like the one that occurred in Las Vegas.  

The extreme sides of this argument are not and will not be feasible. We can't continue to do nothing and we can't ban all guns. So let's have the dialogue and the negotiation, and let's find the middle ground. It may hurt a little bit for both sides to sacrifice a bit of their agenda, but at the end of the day we may actually see some progress.

The next step is sitting down, together, at the table.

Cover image courtesy of Ashton Kutcher.

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