Commentary

A different call of duty

Originally Published: December 19, 2012
By Rick Reilly | ESPN.com

NFL Newtown Getty Images, AP PhotoPlayers throughout the NFL, such as Aqib Talib (l) of the New England Patriots, Tim Tebow of the New York Jets and J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans wore tributes to those slain in Newtown, CT on December 14.
You know who's as heartsick as you at the thought of a classroom full of murdered first-graders in Newtown, Conn.?

Hunters.

Target shooters.

NRA members.

Some of them look at photos of the Bushmaster .223 semiautomatic rifle Adam Lanza used to leave 26 students and staff members at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in pools of blood -- the kind anybody could buy at many stores for less than $900 -- and it twists their stomachs.

"A gun like that is not for deer hunting," says Stephen Czaja of Tarpon Springs, Fla., an NRA member. "That looks like a gun Schwarzenegger would carry, not a hunter."

Doug Goodman, another hunter from Cicero, Ind., became an NRA member at age 12, but quit. He doesn't want the NRA protecting assault weapons in the name of his favorite sport.

"I hear this [NRA CEO and executive vice president Wayne] LaPierre talking about how government wants to come and take our firearms," Goodman says. "That's insane. These are weapons of war they're talking about right now. These are mass killing weapons. If I get three pulls of the trigger at a pheasant and I can't hit it, the pheasant wins."

Jeff Johnson of St. Paul, Minn., hunts waterfowl with a semiautomatic shotgun, but he'd gladly give it up to end this parade of caskets.

"Put the picture of [murdered first grader] Emilie Parker next to my semiauto shotgun and pick one," he writes. "Put [murdered 6-year old] Benjamin Wheeler's hopes and dreams against me not having to move my forearm six inches and pick one."

[+] EnlargeKevin Durant
Layne Murdoch/NBAE/Getty ImagesSneakers worn by Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder in a game against the Sacramento Kings on December 14.
Hunters, target shooters, NRA members: I'm happy for you to keep your single-shot rifles and revolvers. But your right to get thrills by firing off Halo-style rounds ends at my mall, my cineplex, my local schools.

Nearly every double-digit mass murder in this country was made easier by semiautomatic guns that use high-capacity clips: Columbine (13), the Washington D.C. sniper (10), Virginia Tech (32), Aurora (12), and now Newtown (27), just to name a few.

Enough.

Both Dwyane Wade and LeBron James of the Miami Heat wrote, "Newtown, CT" on their shoes for a recent game against the Wizards. Each of them has a 5-year old. Honoring the dead is noble. Making laws to protect the living is better.

There was a moment of silence at every NFL game this weekend. That's fine. But speaking up for gun sanity would be even better.

Something has to change, and that includes the mindset of some people in Newtown itself.

For one thing, it's the home of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the second-largest pro-gun lobbying agency in America -- behind the NRA -- and a tireless fighter for your right to hunt with assault weapons and high-cap magazines. It's easy to find. It's three miles from Sandy Hook Elementary School. (The foundation did not return my calls.)

For another, Newtown has two shooting ranges. Problem is, there's a waiting list to use them. That's probably why, in the past year, a bunch of unofficial shooting ranges have popped up on private property in the area, where gun fans have been firing away at targets with semiautomatic weapons. There are reports of people firing at propane tanks, just to watch them explode, according to The New York Times.

Yet when the noise complaints went way up, along with the terrified calls to 911, the town ordinance committee had hearings about it this summer, and a crowd including a spokesman from the NSSF showed up to squash any new ordinances. In the minutes of that meeting report, the NSSF spokesman said: "No safety concerns exist."

Didn't turn out safe for a 52-year-old Newtown mother of two named Nancy Lanza, who had a collection of guns, including a Bushmaster semi. She loved taking her son, Adam, to the ranges to practice, according to friends. Then on Friday, Adam turned one of her own guns on her, according to police, killing her in her own bed.

So Newtown will have to wait for the next meeting to try again. Me, I'm sick of waiting.

Chris Johnson
Jim Brown/USA TODAY Sports On December 17, the cleats of Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson bore the names of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.
The day of the Columbine shootings, I waited to hear if the three kids of three of my softball buddies were still alive. We played on the field right next to that high school. It was dinnertime before we knew they'd sprinted to safety.

The day of the Aurora shootings, I waited for three hours to hear if my son, Kellen, was still alive. He works in Aurora. My God, what if he was there? My fingers trembled reading the text, "I'm fine!"

The day of the Newtown shootings, I waited to hear if the daughter of my main feature producer at ESPN was all right. Turns out she goes to a different school.

My nerves are frayed, my patience gauze-thin. It's changed me. It's changed the country. And I'm sick of waiting for the laws to change.

Look, there will always be madmen. But why do we insist on making mass murder so easy for them? Adam Lanza killed every person he aimed at but two, and in an estimated eight minutes or less. We'll never stop people from going crazy, but we need to make it harder for them to murder rooms full of our kids when they do.

I know you love hunting and target shooting. But don't you see?

The hunted -- the targets -- have become us.

Rick Reilly | email

Columnist, ESPN.com