While in politics, I allowed myself to be bullied by the NRA. No more.
I cannot help but feel like there is something I could have done to prevent this calamity.
But I will no longer allow myself to be intimidated by groups like the NRA.
I don't need an assault weapon to go hunting with my son.
I am a lifelong hunter, a veteran of the United States Army, and a former elected official here in my home of Yellowstone County. But above all I consider myself a parent, and so I will be forever haunted by the slaughter of those 20 innocent children at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The day after the massacre, I took my own son on his first goose-hunting trip. I hoped it would be a special experience for him, though I couldn't stop thinking about the previous day's events and all of the mothers and fathers in Newtown, Conn., whose sons and daughters were so heinously murdered. They were utterly helpless against a madman and his assault rifle.
Though I live more than 2,000 miles away from Newtown, I cannot help but feel like there is something I could have done to prevent this calamity. During my tenure in politics, I allowed myself to be bullied by those in the National Rifle Association and other extremist gun-rights organizations. I feared that if I didn't follow their dictates I would expose myself to ridicule and, worse yet, to their wrath in my next election.
I am regretful about my acquiescence now more than ever. But I will not bow down to their pressure tactics again.
I am a proud gun owner and, as such, I call on our nation to stand up and demand that our leaders tackle gun violence in this country. Specifically, the president and Congress must take up the question of whether assault weapons and high-capacity magazines have a place on our streets and in our homes.
This conversation will no doubt raise the hackles of those who disavow even the most minor regulations on their guns or ammunition. They'll say the government is infringing on their rights yet again.
Let them tell that to the grieving parents in Newtown who just buried their children.
The government regulates the amount of shells I can have in my shotgun when hunting waterfowl. It regulates the number of beers I can have at a local microbrewery. It determines whether or not I can talk on my cellphone while operating a 4,000-pound vehicle on public streets.
We need certain laws in place to protect our health, safety and the welfare of our citizens. Why then is it so difficult to reduce the number of assault weapons that pose a threat to Americans everywhere?
During my service to my country, I was trained to use a rifle not unlike that used in the Sandy Hook massacre. Military-style firearms like these belong in combat, not in communities like Helena or Newtown.
To some in this country, the Second Amendment is sacrosanct. But as someone who has been around guns his whole life, I can confidently say that most gun owners are sensible people who believe that support for the Second Amendment goes hand-in-hand with ensuring the safety of our family, friends and neighbors. We have a right to bear arms, yes. Though we also have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
I don't need an assault weapon to go hunting with my son, and I certainly don't want him to grow up believing that gun regulations are in any way a threat to his rights as an American.
More than anything, I pray that my family lives in a country where they need not fear for their lives at movie theaters, shopping malls, houses of worship or schools. They deserve better.
We can no longer be scared silent by the NRA, and we can no longer rattle off excuses for inaction. The time is now. If those brave teachers and administrators in Newtown could stand up and face certain death to protect the schoolchildren of Sandy Hook, then surely we can stand up to honor their memory and do what is best for our country.
(Ed Tinsley is a former commissioner of Lewis and Clark County. His column appeared first in usatoday.com.)