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Renée Schafer Horton: Talking with family about guns

The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

For the past year, I’ve had an ongoing, mostly text-based conversation with a 40-something relative on the opposite side of the political aisle. I do this for many reasons, the most important of which is that I remember his tiny hand in mine during a walk around his neighborhood when he was 3.

We’d seen a hole in the ground and he asked, “Who lives there?” In retrospect, I realize the answer was probably “Ground squirrel,” but he’d been asking questions non-stop for 15 minutes and my brain was fried. So, I said it was a mole.

Thus began many more minutes of questions.

It was both exhausting and adorable — and he never let go of my hand.

That’s what I try to remember during our discussions in a world polarized by social media memes and cable news flame-throwers: He is my family, and once, we held hands.

Some people think I should avoid the stress that comes with talking to someone who, while not having actually drunk the conspiracy Kool-Aid, is influenced by some of its biggest peddlers.

But there’s no other option. Our country is collapsing because the extremes refuse to seek the middle ground, and deny any good in the other side. It has to stop. These conversations are my tiny effort toward a ceasefire.

When a bipartisan Senate committee announced June 12 that they had a proposal to address gun violence, I called “Sam” to find out what he thought about it. (I’m using an alias and won’t say where he lives because he has small children and I fear him being harassed at home.)

Like many of his friends, Sam’s a hunter, a target shooter and a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. He is not, however, a “gun nut.”

He doesn’t think protesting in the streets with AR-15s is responsible, nor would he ever put one in a toddler’s lap, snap a photo and then caption it with a Bible quote – “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it” – as the Twitter account of the Daniel Defense gun manufacturer recently did.

That said, Sam would lay down his life to protect his guns from government seizure because he takes the Second Amendment at its word.

In the Senate proposal, Sam supports enhanced background checks that include juvenile criminal records and thinks those records should also include high school disciplinary offenses.

“We have to look at juvenile records because you have demented kids,” he explained. “I’m putting blame where it needs to be — on the government doing background checks. Those checks need to be more thorough and juvenile records can’t be ignored.”

He also supports federal funding for increased law enforcement, school safety and school mental health services, but is less supportive of the red flag section of the proposed law because he fears someone with a grudge against a neighbor could make a false report resulting in the incorrect removal of a gun.

I, on the other hand, am a huge fan of red flag laws such as passed in Florida following the 2018 mass shooting at Parkland High School, because they’ve proven effective.

In fact, according to recent reporting by, in just the last two weeks of May, a Florida judge removed firearm privileges from a man “accused of threatening to ‘shoot everyone’ at his son’s school, a woman who police say attempted suicide and then accidentally shot her boyfriend during a struggle for her revolver, a husband who allegedly fired multiple rounds in the street to ‘blow off steam’ after losing a family member, a bullied 13-year-old (who) witnesses overheard saying, ‘If all of eighth grade is missing tomorrow you will know why,’ and a mother arrested for brandishing a handgun at another mom after a school bus incident between their daughters.”

If we can’t get control of weapons, we need to get control of who gets weapons, is my thinking. Red flag laws help with that.

Sam supports the last two parts of the Senate proposal — a federal law against gun trafficking and straw purchasing, and clarification of who needs to register as a licensed gun dealer — but remains leery of federal overreach into family transfer of weapons.

As a fiscal conservative, he’s also concerned about overspending. Me, I’m all about spending whatever it takes to keep illegal guns off the streets, including restricting “kitchen-table” deals.

Sam and I disagree on many issues, but if we weren’t talking, it would be very easy to let those disagreements morph into disgust, and have us turn each other into caricatures of “our side.”

I don’t want that to happen, even if people on the extremes encourage that very thing.

Instead, I want to keep remembering that Sam is family, and once upon a time, we held hands.

Renée Schafer Horton is a regular Star op-ed contributor. Reach her at

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