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I'm a gun owner. And I'm ashamed.

I'm a mountain boy, from a small town of 4,300 in New York's Adirondack Park, the oldest son of a small business owner. My father's locked cabinet showcased his hunting rifles, pistols and revolvers. I'd sit in front of the embossed glass and admire his weapons. They were sleek and impressive. I couldn't wait to own one.

Firing a weapon and shooting your first white tail were the only rite of passage that mattered. 

My first BB gun arrived when I was 6 years old. You had to pump it 10 times before it made any real power. I killed my first tiny bird and immediately felt terrible. At 12, a 20-gauge Mossberg appeared on the day I passed my hunter's safety course. A .30-30 was handed to me on my 16th birthday. And, finally, when I turned 21, a .45 Colt made its way onto my belt. But only after receiving the relevant state permit, a point of pride when it came through. 

My old man's training regime kicked in every time a new weapon entered my life. We would take walks through the woods. He would scold me for letting my arm dip during a trail carry. Every moving part would be disassembled and cleaned. Each weapon, from BB gun to Glock, was to be treated with respect. Gun ownership carries responsibility. Background checks were part of that responsibility.

Look, this country has a gun problem. And it's impinging on that beloved "freedom," to boot. Three dead at Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Fourteen dead in San Bernardino, California. It's been a tough couple weeks for guns. But responding with the standard "more guns equals more safety," slogan isn't responsible. 

The federal assault rifle ban expired in 2004, after a decade. The AR-15, the civilian equivalent of a modern military assault weapon, became the standard weapon of choice. They're high-tech and modern. They're relatively cheap to shoot and the market is flooded with the kind of after-market upgrades that would make some standing armies jealous. AR-15s and their clones also tout large magazines and are the go-to option for those seeking to cause the most carnage and death. These are people killers.

I hear it all the time: Gun rights are about freedom. Foreign invaders. Tyrannical government. Guns are the great equalizer, the logically shaky argument goes.

The rise of the easily accessible assault rifle is actually working against us. The 30-round magazine, the War on Drugs: American police departments are arming up. Cops are in an arms race against a populace awash in highly modern killing machines. Militarized police is a real threat to liberty. And the taxpayers are footing the bill.

Yeah, there's an urban/rural cultural divide. Yeah, there's something addictive about firing a weapon straight and true. Yeah, a gun is suddenly a fashion statement for rural populations who've seen the jobs leave and poverty spread. 

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I get it.

But one organization has stolen the conversation. The National Rifle Association claims to speak for all of us. Well, it doesn't speak for me. And polls show it doesn't even speak for the majority of its members on the background check question. The NRA acts as if insanity is an aberration of the 21st century. Madness has always existed. The increased effectiveness of tools designed to kill is the variable here. 

The very same Republicans who claim to be tough on terrorism last week killed legislation to ban those on the terrorist watch list from buying a gun. It’s a nonsensical blind spot, wholly crafted to appease the all-powerful gun lobby. 

Gun owners are an independent, knowledgeable group. The recent attacks were only possible because of the ease at which someone can buy a gun. Restrictions on gun possession have always existed. It was a matter of responsibility. 

Sitting back and doing nothing is hardly responsible.

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Jon Alexander is opinion page editor at The Southern. He can be reached at jonathan.alexander@the southern.com.

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