Every member of the United States military swears an oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. For most service members, that oath doesn’t expire when they take off their uniforms and become veterans. Army veteran Christopher Mintz demonstrated as much last month when he charged—unarmed—toward a gunman at an Oregon community college. However, Mintz’s laudable actions overshadowed the story of a different veteran also on campus that day.
John Parker, an Air Force veteran, was in another location on the Umpqua campus when he learned of the active shooter. Parker was carrying a concealed firearm but chose to not engage the shooter. Parker later explained that “not knowing where SWAT was on their response time, they wouldn’t know who we were, and if we had our guns ready to shoot, they’d think we were the bad guys.”
Parker exercised the common sense of a trained military veteran and responsible gun owner. Without knowledge of the tactical environment, he held his post. Parker was a good guy with a gun; Mintz was a good guy without a gun. Both veterans made decisions that likely saved lives.
The discipline Parker exercised didn’t come part and parcel with being a gun owner. Rather, Parker did the right thing because of his military training. Like every member of the military, Parker was trained on how to properly carry, clear, disassemble, clean, reassemble, load, aim, discharge, and safely store any firearm for which he was accountable. Because of his tactical training, Parker knew that, oftentimes, proper use of a firearm means not shooting.
The military asks this much of anyone allowed to possess a firearm, because firearms are lethal. Firearms have the ability to take life, and in the military we take that seriously. Unfortunately, many of our lawmakers don’t, and it’s time that veterans step forward and have our voices heard on the matter.
I too swore an oath to defend this country. Now, I am asking my fellow veterans help protect our citizens against firearm-related fatalities and injuries. Veterans – especially those who are gun owners – must speak up. Veterans must speak as voters, advocates, safety trainers, and examples of responsible gun owners. When it comes to firearms, people trust us because we’ve been trained extensively on how to use a lethal weapon responsibly.
Veterans should think back on how much training it took to earn the right to carry a weapon in the military. We should at least promote similar common-sense measures for the people who are allowed to carry guns in the neighborhoods where our kids play. Veterans know what common sense gun laws are, because they look a lot like the rules we used in the military to keep ourselves safe.
All veterans should support basic criminal background checks for all gun purchases – in stores, online, and at gun shows. Veterans should demand laws that keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers and stalkers. And veterans should ask for legal requirements for the safe storage of all guns.
In the military, weapons do not get lost or stolen. Losing track of your weapon in an unthinkable scenario with consequences to match. As veterans, we need to tell lawmakers to make sure all that gun owners maintain accountability or face consequences for lost guns.
More Americans have been killed by firearms in the last half century than all fatalities in all of our country’s wars, combined. If veterans are not holding all gun owners to some of the basic gun safety standards that we learned in the military, then we are failing to uphold our oath. Many of us fought for our country overseas; now veterans have a chance to speak up and start fighting to save lives here at home.
Chris Marvin is a retired Army officer, a former Black Hawk helicopter pilot, and a combat-wounded veteran of the war in Afghanistan. He is a supporter of Everytown for Gun Safety.