These gun owners support stricter gun control for amazing reasons we all need to hear.
Photo courtesy of Nathan Dannison.

Nathan Dannison received his first firearm — a Browning bolt action .22 rifle — as a Christmas gift when he was 11 years old.

Now 34, he's owned guns consistently since and enjoys hunting and clay shooting. But he says the line gun owners are expected to toe when it comes to the national gun control debate is troubling.

"We've let the Hollywood cowboy wannabes take over the debate," he says. "We've let the NRA devolve from a conservation and education organization into something unrecognizable."


Dannison is part of a growing number of gun owners breaking from the stereotypical NRA-driven script and advocating for new, stricter, common-sense gun legislation.

Alexander Voorman, 34, believes that gun owners bear the greatest responsibility in this debate.

"I may personally like guns," he says, "but I also believe that everyone has the right to live safely and freely without one, and that those people are in no way culpable for the epidemic of gun violence in this country."

Photo courtesy of Alexander Voorman.

Voorman was raised in a strictly no-gun household, but says he was fascinated early on by guns and currently visits the shooting range as a hobby.  

South Carolinian Bill Ware, 59, owns a slew of firearms as a hobby as well: .20- and .12-gauge shotguns, rifles, several pistols, and an assortment of reproduction black powder guns.

Like Voorman, he's questioned the validity of ownership and his role in the debate while people are dying in mass shooting after mass shooting, especially those involving assault-style weapons. "I was having a crisis of conscience of sorts," Ware notes.

He, Voorman, and Dannison believe that gun owners must overcome the radical voices that have long dominated this conversation.

"The continued silence of much of the gun-owning populace in the face of shooting after shooting casts us in a horrifyingly bad light," Voorman says. "It makes us look callous and uncaring at best; complicit at worst."

It's not easy to advocate for limiting freedoms from within the gun community. Many believe any change would be a slippery slope to sweeping bans on all firearms or even the creation of a database of gun owners.

From Voorman's perspective, though, gun owners' resistance to regulation seems steeped in paranoia. He says they fear that overregulation due to the "ill-defined, just-in-case" scenario in which they might need a gun.

In this way, gun ownership becomes a comfort.

Katie Kirchner, 39, has been a gun owner since 2001, after someone knocked on the window of her rural home in the middle of the night. Though her gun provides her a sense of some security, she doesn't believe that makes gun reform a threat.

"The gun is not a need — it is a want," she says. "And at this point I am not even sure I want it any longer so as not to be lumped into the intolerant, gun-owning, chest-pumping, NRA-loving group."

Photo courtesy of Katie Kirchner.

With a third grader who tells her about the lockdown drills they do at school, Kirchner is even more troubled, saying, "I hate that she has to consider this even happening to her and her classmates."

Public safety, especially in schools, is perhaps the greatest motivator for this group pushing for tighter regulation.

There is a growing consensus that the NRA is a toxic, destabilizing force in U.S. politics.

Dannison points to profit's role in the gun reform debate:

"It's critical that people understand that a gun is a product with an indefinite shelf-life. This makes it very, very hard to run a profitable, growth-based industry around manufacturing guns. Imagine if cars never wore out. The car makers would go bust in a few years. This is what is motivating the gun lobby."

When it comes to weapons like AR-15s, the gun of choice in many of our mass shootings, Dannsion says they're kind of like a Lego set because of all of the little pieces, parts, and modifications a person can purchase. "It's a really deadly toy," he says wrly, "but you know how children get when you try to take away their toys."

These gun owners are ready to have real conversations about gun control.

They have progressive ideas about how to make changes that reduce gun violence and shootings and keep everyone — gun owners or not — safe. "The solution, or mere inspiration for actual progress, lies in finding the profit in regulation," Ware explains.

Photo courtesy of Bill Ware.

He believes that registering and insuring guns might be the key to motivating insurance companies to participate in the dialogue, much like the ways we regulate cars.

Kirchner says she would be glad to participate if reforms were to include screening current gun owners.

"I would be the first in line to see if I am capable of owning a gun," she says. "I have nothing to hide and sometimes wonder what the non-gun reform people do have to hide.”

No matter the outcome, Dannison, Kirchner, Voorman, and Ware agree that gun owners need to get involved in regulation advocacy right now.

"We are increasingly painting ourselves as a very dangerous and angry minority in America," Voorman says, "and it is my belief that if we want to continue to enjoy our freedom to bear arms, we must either give a little now — or give a lot later."

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

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