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Viewpoint: It's time to handicap the NRA's influence

By Sally Toomey, Houlton resident

Recent events have been huge eye openers on gun violence, school and public safety, and potential changes to gun laws.

The first eye opener was that we were having this conversation at all considering that after each and every incident of mass gun violence in America, legislators tap dance as quietly as possible until the conversation fizzles out, hoping to avoid the poison pill of taking a position that may offend the NRA and the gun lobby.

I'm more hopeful than ever this time that the national outrage will continue to carry the day and keep the conversation going. I'm proud of the Parkland students, parents and teachers for raising their voices, and of course disheartened (but not surprised) by those who criticize these foolish kids and their lofty notions about changing anything.

My father was a 19-year-old U.S. Marine when he was wounded in the World War II battle on Iwo Jima. His generation saved the world. In the 1960s and 70s I watched young Americans bring about change on civil rights and U.S. involvement in Vietnam. They challenged President Nixon's government and uncovered its undeniable lies and untruths. We continue to entrust our national defense to our youngest adult generation, and they have done it superbly for nearly two-and-a-half centuries.

There is no limit to what these kids are capable of accomplishing, especially when they are fueled by their personal experiences: the trauma of gun violence, the heartache of burying friends and loved ones, their utter disbelief with lawmakers who have failed to do their job, and resistance to groups who tell them they can't do anything about it.

President Trump's meeting in the White House with parents, teachers and students from Parkland was also a positive step. The president needed to face these people, hear what they had to say and personally witness their pain. The meeting was often awkward and uncomfortable. The president's proposal that we arm teachers and fortify our schools is a terrible idea but he listened and suggested possible actions that have been stonewalled for decades.

I tuned in to CNN's Town Hall meeting in Florida between lawmakers and the Parkland community despite the feeling that I didn't want to watch grief, pain and raw emotions spin out of control on national television. While I fully support this conversation with lawmakers, I worry that these grief-stricken people and inexperienced teens are being exploited for news value. I saw a little of both. The state of Florida should compensate these students by offering them all free tuition, so they can remain involved, continue their education and focus their raw activism into a productive and effective movement for change.

I respect Sen. Marco Rubio for facing his outraged constituents. I felt hopeful after hearing the reasonable proposals of Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, Congressman Ted Deutch and Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel.

Communities across America should be having these conversations before they are the next sensational news story.

And lastly, The NRA broke tradition and joined the conversation early and publicly. (This is where I unapologetically digress.) I want to thank NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch and her boss, Executive Director Wayne LaPierre, for offering nothing new or inspiring to the conversation. While speaking at the American Conservative Union's 2018 meeting of the Conservative Political Action Committee, Loesch vilified the media saying that the media loves the ratings of a mass shooting. Who says something like (and I'm not making this up), "crying white mothers are ratings gold?" Is this really the message of defenders of our democracy?

The NRA continues to pervert the U.S. Constitution for wealth, power and political influence and the majority of Americans are not fooled. Rational citizens, both gun owners and not, recognize the NRA's repeated falsehood that the Second Amendment guarantees the right of private citizens to own weapons of war. It's time that voters handicap the NRA's influence and make it political suicide to accept its financial and political support.