Here's what happens when the NRA tweets your gun-control column, which is then picked up by several conservative media outlets: It makes your piece one of The Sun's best read opinions of the new year, and it unleashes the hounds.

"Batten down the hatches," was the advice my editor gave after signing off on the admittedly provocative essay, which explored the idea of a searchable, public database of registered gun owners. He wasn't kidding.

Advertisement

They came at me via email, Twitter, Facebook, telephone and the U.S. Postal Service, attacking my looks, intelligence and parenting skills. They suggested multiple ways my child could be killed other than by guns and liberally used the f-word, b-word and c-word (at least once misspelled with a k) for emphasis. "Special kind of stupid" was a favorite put down (though I kind of liked "trollop" — you just don't hear that much anymore), as was questioning whether I was on my period (Hey Trump fans!).

Some were local, but many weren't. And a handful were thoughtful, respectful and earnest, with fair points to make. I tried to respond to those folks, though I may have missed some; I stopped reading the messages after a while. You can only take so much cyberbullying before it gets old.

In short, the response was largely ruthless, relentless and meant to intimidate. It was also impressive. Seriously. Tens of thousands of people read the column online (and at least another 23,000 read the web summary), and hundreds took time out of their days to give me a piece of their minds. If these same gun owners lobby their legislators with half the passion they directed my way, it's not hard to see why they have been so successful in fighting gun control efforts.

And there's the takeaway: Those of us who claim to support gun reform efforts — the majority of the country, according to recent polls — have to be as loud or louder to be heard (though perhaps more civil). It's not enough to shed tears over the latest mass shooting or bemoan gun buying loopholes with like-minded friends. We've got to act. The gun owners, roughly a third of the population, sure do. Many are single issue voters who turn out for every election, proudly contribute to the NRA and wholly believe in their cause. Can we say the same?

In an op-ed earlier this month in the New York Times, discussing his new executive actions on gun control laws, which are supported by 67 percent of Americans, President Barack Obama pledged to also take every action he could as a citizen. "I will not campaign for, vote for or support any candidate, even in my own party, who does not support common-sense gun reform," he wrote. "And if the 90 percent of Americans who do support common-sense gun reforms join me, we will elect the leadership we deserve."

I can get on board with that, though I don't think we should wait around for the next election. We need to speak up immediately to let our politicians know how they can best represent us — or find a new career. There are many gun control advocates who already do this, but nowhere near enough given the numbers of people who say they support reforms.

The time for action from that silent group is now. As Alec MacGillis, a former Sun reporter now with ProPublica, noted in a recent opinion piece, the gun lobby's power is waning: Gun ownership is concentrated in a smaller portion of the population, universal background legislation nearly passed in 2013, and more politicians are willing to take on the National Rifle Association.

New polling and study data are also making it clear that Americans not only want tighter controls on gun ownership but also more controllable guns. A study published yesterday in the American Journal of Public Health found that roughly 60 percent of Americans overall (including 40 percent of gun owners and 56 percent of political conservatives) would be willing to buy a "smart gun" with safety technology that limits who can fire it. That suggests there's a market for such firearms — which could reduce gun suicides and accidental shootings, and render a weapon useless if stolen — despite claims to the contrary by gun manufacturer trade associations.

While a public database of gun owners may push too far, easy access to guns is nevertheless a problem in this country. So is our acceptance of it.

Tricia Bishop is The Sun's deputy editorial page editor. Her column runs every other Friday. Her email is tricia.bishop@baltsun.com; Twitter: @triciabishop.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement