Open Letter to Paul Ryan on Guns

Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan. Photo by Callen Harty.

Dear Speaker Ryan,

Yet another young man with yet another AR-15 semi-automatic rifle has killed yet more people in a place that should be safe.

And you, yet again, have said that it is not the time to talk about it. It is too soon. We don’t have all the facts. We have to wait.

The problem with not talking about these things because it is “too soon” is that it’s always too soon until it’s too late. We need to talk and take action now. Right now.

You may not realize this, but we have been waiting to deal with ending gun violence for years. We have been waiting almost twenty years since Columbine, since Virginia Tech, since Fort Hood, since the Aurora theater, since Oak Creek, since Sandy Hook, since San Bernadino, since Charleston, since the Pulse Nightclub, since Las Vegas, since many other tragedies (Binghamton, San Ysidro, the Baptist church in Texas, a shopping center in Omaha, and more, many more). We can’t wait any longer. It is time for talk and then for action. It is past time.

Maybe we don’t have all the facts from this week’s shooting yet. Do you think maybe we have enough facts yet from any of the previous mass shootings to start the discussion? Here’s a fact for you. Just in the mass shootings named above more than 300 people died and hundreds more were injured and many of them were children. That fact alone should tell you that it is time not only to talk, but to take action to prevent any more deaths from senseless mass shooting events.

If you are hesitant to talk because of all the money you’ve taken from the National Rifle Association perhaps it is time to give it back, buy back your soul, and join the majority of Americans who want to see something done about this issue. $171,977 is a lot of money to give back, but you would earn it back in good will and votes from the American citizens you are truly elected to represent.

Unlike Citizens United which allows politicians to accept virtually unlimited campaign donations it is understood that the Bill of Rights was designed to protect all of us. Admittedly, there are those on the extremes who do want to take all guns out of the hands of citizens and on the flip side there are those who believe we should have access to even more deadly weapons. Most of us are in the middle. Most of us believe in the Constitution. Most of us believe that the Second Amendment guarantees citizens the right to bear arms. We are okay with that. We come from hunting communities or collecting communities or communities where fear convinces people to buy guns to protect their homes and families. We are okay with people buying handguns or rifles for personal use. We are not okay with citizens holding weapons and arsenals that are designed solely for killing people efficiently. We are tired of waking up to stories about lone gunmen killing dozens of people for unexplained reasons.

Most of us also understand that the history of our nation is a history of compromise. You don’t get everything you want, I don’t get everything I want, but we both get something. We understand that compromise doesn’t happen without first engaging in conversation–not partisan debate with no respect for the opinions of others, but real dialogue.

You represent my state in Congress. You are the Speaker of the House. You should be a leader on this issue. You should not tell us it is too early to talk or refer to the calls for talk and action as knee-jerk reactions. You need to listen to all the people, not just those who support you with votes or cash. You are also a father with children of your own. When you see American children dying needlessly you should lead the charge in figuring out how to prevent that from ever happening again. Your constituents expect nothing less and we are watching, not just this week because of the most recent shooting, but we will be watching every day until we see the change that we so badly need.

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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