I’ve given myself a week to digest what happened in Newtown, Conn., the horrific heartbreak, the children’s funerals, and the subsequent fallout.

The ensuing dialogue is the stuff of our democracy and I find the public debate to be encouraging.

However, all too often, after a mass shooting in Arizona, California, Colorado, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin, the dialogue fades with the next big event in our lives and with congressional paralysis.

I think Newtown has the potential to be different if we keep the conversation going. My thoughts are these:

1. Many people in this country may think that the National Rifle Association (NRA) protects their right to bear arms. They don’t; our Constitution does that. It’s part of our collective freedoms and it’s been upheld to the highest level of our judicial system. The NRA has steadfastly sought to cloud and co-opt this right. Their shameful response to the Newtown killings has once again exposed who their leadership serves.

2. The NRA is a special-interest group that generates huge dollars in corporate donations to lobby for the interests of the hugely profitable gun and ammo manufacturers. The NRA staff is well paid, and their CEO, Wayne LaPierre, may be the most influential lobbyist in the country not named Grover Norquist. He regularly begins his public comments by reminding his audience that the NRA is 4 million members strong. So what? Other organizations that promote the public good have as many. The AARP, for example, has 47 million.

3. Ironically, the majority of NRA members support sensible gun safety laws. It’s the organization’s leadership that doesn’t.

4. Call your senators and congressmen and express your views in a heartfelt, considerate way. I have done this on many issues in addition to this one and I do believe it can make a difference. It only takes a few minutes of your time.

I gave up my NRA membership almost 20 years ago. The organization does not serve my interests by obstructing reasonable gun legislation, blaming Hollywood and the media for mass shootings, and demanding we pay to station armed guards in every school to protect our children. I suggest if you belong to the NRA, reconsider paying them your hard-earned money. A shrinking membership would diminish their prominence and the NRA’s lobbying would carry less weight with policy makers. Should you quit supporting the NRA, send a letter to the Board of Directors explaining why (with copies to your elected officials).

I say this as a hunter for over 50 years and a Marine Corps combat veteran who knows the only places where assault weapons and high capacity magazines have a place. I don’t need a Bushmaster or a 30-round clip to kill a pheasant or an elk. Neither does anyone else, although the NRA will lobby Congress that you do.

I know there are many contributing issues that need attention to change our country’s culture of gun violence. I’ve highlighted just one that constantly meets with rigid resistance. So keep the conversation going and take action. If nothing changes, then next month, or surely next year, we’ll be reading about another Newtown somewhere in America.

These tragedies are happening with frightening frequency. Doing what we can to prevent even one more is our collective responsibility as citizens.

— Bruce Smith of 44 Duncan District Road, Sheridan, earned a Ph.D in zoology from the University of Wyoming and is a 30-year veteran wildlife manager and scientist of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He now writes full-time to promote wildlife conservation.

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