Rep. Byron Donalds has a powerful and personal take on why fear can't dictate gun policy

Rep. Byron Donalds has a powerful and personal take on why fear can't dictate gun policy
AP Photo/Steve Cannon

I’m planning to have the congressman on Cam & Co next week to talk about this, but I don’t want to wait until then to write about the Florida congressman’s response to calls for more gun control after the massacres in Uvalde and Buffalo in recent weeks.

Writing at Fox News, Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida has laid out what I think is one of the best arguments against a knee-jerk, gun-centric reaction, starting with his own experience “living in fear of guns.”

Growing up in inner-city Brooklyn, New York, during the ’80s, I’ve seen my fair share of guns and their positive and negative impacts on a community. From the rampant crime that scourged New York City during my childhood and killed countless Americans, many of whom looked like me, to the brave law enforcement officers who protected our streets with firearms.

I grew up very familiar with weapons, whether I was ready or not. The emotional toll of living in an unsafe neighborhood can weigh on your psyche, especially as a parent. My mother, a hardworking single parent, often feared her child could end up dead at the hands of an evil man with a gun, a reality far too many mothers in underserved neighborhoods have faced.

As someone who lived in the inner city, I can say firsthand that my peers and I lived in fear, a fear that we’d eventually grow numb to but a real fear, nonetheless. The fear of getting killed by a stray bullet, witnessing a murder, or getting mugged at gunpoint while walking home from a basketball practice. I mention the latter example because it’s personal to me. Growing up in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, I was walking home after basketball practice when I stared death in the eye at the hands of a deranged person looking to steal my belongings. Although I was reluctant to hand over my valuables to a criminal, I knew my life was far more important than ending up dead over things that honestly didn’t matter.

Donalds’ story especially resonates with me because of the experience of my wife and two oldest kids, who lived in Camden, New Jersey when it was the murder capital of the United States back in the early and mid 1990s. When I met my wife online in 1996 and things got serious a few months later, it was an easy call for her to make that she and the kids were moving to Oklahoma with me rather than me move to Camden with them, and I understood. As a 22-year old just starting out in television news, I didn’t make enough money to live in a great neighborhood either, but I didn’t have stories about my neighbor’s ex-boyfriend showing up outside her door and drunkenly firing away while I pressed myself as close as I could to the linoleum floor of my apartment. I never fell asleep to the sound of gunfire because it was as common as the sound of crickets in the countryside.

I grew up in the bucolic suburbs of Oklahoma City, far away from the type of violence and fear that Donalds describes. But I’m a husband and father to people who could swap years worth of stories with Donalds, and those stories have sunk in with me. I’m not blind to the realities of gun-related violence, whether it’s a suicide or an intentional act targeting others. It’s not that I and gun owners like me don’t care about the victims of these crimes. It’s that we don’t believe infringing on our right to keep and bear arms is A) constitutional and B) an effective or “reasonable” answer.

As we continue to mourn the devastating, heart-wrenching, and senseless loss of life in Uvalde, Texas, and struggle with the pain of Parkland, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Columbine, Las Vegas, and many more American cities, I am keenly aware of the desire to “do something now.” My job as an elected official is to determine what that something should and shouldn’t be and make the difficult decision to decipher what is best for my constituents and the future of our nation. Today, all eyes are on our Congress to determine that “something,” — and we must make sure raw emotion doesn’t cloud our judgment, but rather that steady, constitutional solutions take priority.

Whether some in America like it or not, we are a nation grounded in our Constitution, and while some see this sacred document as inconvenient, we must not deviate from this fact. Look, Republicans have kids, too — I have three sons, and their lives and well-being mean more to me than anything. As someone responsible for determining federal policy in our nation’s capital, elected officials on both sides of the aisle must engage in honest and good faith conversations when tackling the American people’s tremendous burdens.

I’ll do everything I can to ensure this nation stays true to our founding principles despite the overwhelming headwinds of bully pulpits and political positioning. My commitment is always to keep my door open, hear all sides, and follow the rule of law, irrespective of the emotionally charged matter up for debate.

Our emotions may dictate what we respond to, but it shouldn’t be the determining factor in how we respond. That’s where those “steady, constitutional solutions” that Donalds writes about should hold sway. Still, emotions do matter, and Donalds’ openness about his own experience with being afraid of firearms and growing up in a place with a lot of violent crime is a pretty powerful way of approaching the subject that’s likely to resonate at an emotionally-charged moment than the recitation of dry statistics.