Flying the Unfriendly Skies With an Anti-Gun Activist

(AP Photo/Nicole Evatt)

Nina Vinik isn’t as well known as anti-gunners like Shannon Watts or Gabrielle Giffords, but the head of the anti-gun group Project Unloaded is definitely trying to make a name for herself and her organization. In a new op-ed at HuffPo, Vinik describes a recent conversation she claims to have had with a self-described “2A fanatic” from Texas while on a flight that left her “skeptical of the idea that gun violence will be solved by finding common ground with gun owners.”


After reading her piece, I suspect that if her seatmate “Rick” does actually exist, there’s plenty of common ground between himself and Vinik, just not on the anti-gun policies that she demands.

Rick offered that he has family in Uvalde, where 19 elementary school students and two educators were murdered in a mass shooting last year. He declared that, despite his staunch pro-gun views, he felt that “something needs to be done.”

Seeing an opening, I asked Rick what he believed should be done. He wondered aloud about psychological testing for gun buyers but concluded that that would be too challenging to administer.

I asked what he thought about “red flag” laws that allow for temporary removal of firearms when a gun owner is determined to pose a risk for harming themself or others. Rick didn’t support these types of laws because he doesn’t trust the process.

Efforts to tackle military and veteran suicide by addressing access to firearms? No, he sees suicide as an individual decision.

What about limits on gun ownership for those with a history of domestic violence? Rick had mentioned that his legal work included handling sexual assault cases, so this seemed like low-hanging fruit. But again, Rick was not on board. He felt there were too many cases in which women falsely accused their partners of domestic abuse.

So, although Rick was saddened by recent mass shootings, he couldn’t conjure what could be done to prevent them or offer any tangible ways to address, much less reform, our country’s gun culture.


Maybe, just maybe, “Rick” doesn’t think that the problem is “gun culture”, however Vinik would define it. I mean, Project Unloaded isn’t exactly shy about where it stands on the idea of gun ownership itself, as evidenced by this graphic on its website.

I get the feeling that Vinik wouldn’t have considered her conversation with “Rick” to be fruitful unless he walked off that plane with the stated intent to give up his guns and write a hefty check for her anti-gun activism.

Frankly, “Rick” made valid points to many of Vinik’s suggested infringements, and Vinik doesn’t seem to have any real rebuttal… at least not any she presented to HuffPo readers. I guess if you don’t have any good answers, it’s easy to walk away believing there’s no point in talking to the other side.

Adults like “Rick”, however, aren’t the target audience of Project Unloaded. Instead, the group is intent on turning the next generation away from their right to keep and bear arms.

Adults are unlikely to change their coffee order, let alone their attitudes on a topic like guns, as my conversation with Rick proved. Young people, by contrast, are open to shifting their views and behaviors after learning about the issue.

Two decades ago, nearly a quarter of teens smoked cigarettes. Today, less than 3% of teens do ― a generational shift sparked by large-scale cultural campaigns designed to empower them with information on the risks. Similarly, when we expose teens to the facts on using guns, they become less interested in having one.


Yes, kids are smoking at a far lower rate than their parents did at their age, which is good. But Vinik conveniently leaves out that while fewer teens are smoking cigarettes about 15% of teens report smoking marijuana within the past month, while about 14% of high schoolers (and 3.3% of middle schoolers) use vapes or e-cigarettes on a regular basis. It seems to me that teens have traded tobacco for other substances that can still be harmful to their health, which completely undercuts Vinik’s argument when it comes to guns.

If Vinik was interested solely in teaching kids conflict resolution, safe gun handling, and the responsibilities that come with gun ownership, I bet “Rick” would have been all on board. If Vinik had talked about tougher sentences for violent offenders, better mental health and rehabilitative services for juvenile offenders, and other efforts to reduce “gun violence” without blaming lawful gun owners for the actions of criminals, she might actually have found that common ground she says doesn’t exist. But Vinik shouldn’t be surprised that a guy like “Rick”, who has his own decades of experience informing his views, doesn’t believe that criminalizing a fundamental civil right is the right thing to do.

Vinik clearly lacks the self-awareness to understand that she’s part of the problem here. No, she’s not going to find common ground with gun owners when her goal is to eradicate gun ownership, but she might be surprised to learn how amenable gun owners are to taking on issues like violent crime and suicide without infringing on their Second Amendment rights. From programs like Project Ceasefire to the Sentinel app designed by the D.C. Project’s Kathleen Gilligan, the truth is that gun owners are already doing things to make a difference without treading on the rights of law-abiding citizens. Vinik and Project Unloaded can never get behind those efforts because they’re not about demonizing gun ownership, but I’d say they’re doing far more to save lives than indoctrinating the next generation to view gun ownership and the Second Amendment as an evil that needs to be eradicated.


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