Violent gun rights video should not stop fight for better laws

This opinion piece first appeared in the Austin American Statesman on Friday, Sept. 9, 2016

By Emily Keown – Special to the American-Statesman

My family hadn’t even finished breakfast last Thursday when my phone began buzzing.  A threatening video had popped online that name checked volunteers with the Texas chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America — of which I am a volunteer leader — and friends wanted to make sure I knew.

In the short film, an actress portraying a leader in the fight against guns on campus at UT-Austin is shot and killed by a burglar after she watches someone interviewing gun violence prevention advocates like myself. Then, after the actress is shot point blank, the camera pans to the wall behind her, where a Moms Demand Action sign is splattered with blood.

Since the video came out, I’ve considered my options. I’m a mom of two. And while I want to fight tooth and nail against the men who made this video to intimidate and scare gun violence prevention volunteers like me, I must put my kids’ safety first. It’s a careful balance. What I’ve realized, however, is that I can’t stay silent.

Groups like Open Carry Texas, and their ally, Come and Take It Texas, which claimed responsibility for making this video, represent the extreme fringe of this debate. And for too long, these radical activist groups have been the loudest voices at the statehouse in Austin, pushing through a dangerous agenda of guns everywhere at any time with no questions asked.
These groups have relatively few supporters, but their sway in the statehouse makes them a serious threat to the safety of everyday Texans, who overwhelmingly believe responsible gun ownership and common-sense public safety laws go hand in hand.

In recent years, many Texas legislators have been beholden not just to the gun lobby, but to extremists like these two groups who threaten anyone who speaks up for common sense gun safety laws. These groups target women with particularly violent venom.

Representatives from groups like Open Carry Texas and Come and Take It Texas have shown up at Moms Demand Action meetings armed with rifles. They’ve sent us videos of their supporters firing rounds into female mannequins. And now, extremists have taken the time to create a short film in which a Moms Demand Action supporter is shot and our logo is part of a bloody crime scene.

We cannot pretend that this is a matter of pro-gun versus anti-gun. For one thing, everyone in this conversation supports the Second Amendment. What’s more, one side of this debate issues thinly-veiled bloody threats while Moms Demand Action volunteers meet with lawmakers and host lemonade stands for gun sense. There is no equivalency in this debate.

The vast majority of gun owners support common-sense gun laws, and I suspect that most of them would be just as horrified as I am that the people who claim to be their voice in the statehouse are such a radical, threatening group.

I hope that any legislators who watch this video will consider the history of threats and violence against gun safety advocates in our state. I hope they ask themselves how they’d feel if it was their mother, wife, sister or daughter portrayed in this misogynistic and menacing film. And I hope they’ll disavow the reckless legislative agenda being pushed by Open Carry Texas and their allies — which is out of step with the vast majority of Texans.

Just two months ago in Dallas, we saw firsthand the effects of our lax gun laws in action. After five law enforcement officers were shot and killed, Dallas’ Police Chief acknowledged in interviews that our state’s open carry laws made law enforcement’s job more difficult in the minutes and hours following that terrifying shooting.

There’s no doubt that advocates of gun violence prevention will work closely with law enforcement when the Texas legislature begins its 2017 session. We have to be more persuasive than the extremists, who have already announced that they want to put guns in sensitive areas such as bars, as well as dismantle the handgun carry permitting system – meaning that a permit would no longer be required to carry a loaded handgun in public.

We must do everything in our power to stop these bills and make sure legislators know that groups like Open Carry Texas do not stand for all Texas gun owners. Responsible gun owners must make their voices heard. Parents must make our voices heard.

There is so much more we must do to make Texas safer for our kids. No longer can we let the scariest voices in Texas be the ones nestled closest to our lawmakers.

Keown is a volunteer leader with the Texas chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America — which is a part of Everytown for Gun Safety — and a mother of two.