Editor’s Note: Alyssa Milano is an actor, activist, producer and host of the podcast, “Alyssa Milano: Sorry Not Sorry.” She is also a co-chair of Health Care Voter, the founder of #NoRA and Patriot NOT Partisan, and a board member of the ERA Coalition. The views expressed in this commentary are her own. View more opinion on CNN.
Let me start by saying this: I don’t want to take away all guns. In fact, I can’t think of a politician or gun violence prevention advocate who has suggested repealing the Second Amendment. However, I do believe it should be really, really, hard — if not impossible — for certain people to get their hands on certain guns.
We have always been a nation that self-corrects and adjusts with our changing population, economy and the wants, needs, and dreams of the American people. The sign of a thriving society is not resting on its norms or being satisfied with how it’s always been. It’s attempting to always leave something better then how you found it.
Recently, a Texas state representative sent a bizarre, angry, and — in my view — deadly chain of social media posts in which he listed all the things he wasn’t going support: assault weapons bans, extreme risk protection order laws (also known as “red flag” laws), universal background checks. He basically said he would oppose any tiny modicum of sensible governmental intervention to treat the epidemic of preventable gun violence raging in our nation. Guns, he claimed, are a “God-given right.”
I was raised Catholic. I’ve read the Bible, cover-to-cover. A few times. I pray daily. I am a believer. And I sure as Sunday don’t remember any passage where God says we have a right to an AR-15. I tweeted about it, asking a largely rhetorical question about where in the Bible these alleged gun rights exist.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz responded.
What resulted in our back and forth on Twitter was a meeting in his Washington office, where we discussed gun laws, the role of government, and the state of the relationship between the Congress and the American people. I brought Fred Guttenberg, whose precious 14-year-old daughter Jamie was murdered in Parkland, with me so that a person who was personally devastated by gun violence could speak to the emotional truths of that experience. And I also brought my friend, Ben Jackson, a veteran and brilliant man, with whom I co-founded NoRA, who could speak to the weapons we were going to discuss.
I am not going to pretend I wasn’t nervous. I was. I woke up the day of the meeting with a panic attack. The nervousness wasn’t because of Cruz, mind you. It was because I could feel the weight of the potential. Maybe, just maybe, Cruz might be a hero in the epidemic his devotion and allegiance to the NRA helped to create.
Let me be clear: Cruz and I agree on very little. He is a stalwart conservative; I am a committed progressive. He’s one of the largest recipients of NRA money in Washington in 2018, according to Open Secrets; I co-founded #NoRA expressly to get NRA money out of Washington. I support women’s reproductive freedom; he is an ardent foe of abortion rights. Cruz was one of many co-sponsors of a bill which would have codified discrimination against LGBTQ people in America; I will fight until my last breath to make sure the LGBTQ community has true societal equality. I believe in enshrining women’s rights in the Constitution by ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment; Cruz does not. On issue after issue we have fundamentally different views on freedom and humanity and our government.
So why did I agree to meet with him? What could we possibly accomplish when we have such diametrically opposed views on, well, everything?
First and foremost, I agreed to this meeting because 40,000 Americans were shot to death in America in 2017, and, as a US senator, Cruz is one of the very few people in our nation with the power to do something about it. I will talk to anyone who has this power, because lives depend on it. I also wanted to set the record straight about what gun violence prevention activists want and to demystify the right’s narrative of us as “gun grabbers.”
But mostly, I met with the senator because we can’t fix the problems that face this nation unless we talk with people who disagree with us. The truth is that no matter what happens in the 2020 election, there will always be two parties in the Senate which will be close to evenly divided. If we keep living solely in our echo chambers, we will only hear what we ourselves say. And our nation will continue to suffer.
I know we didn’t change his mind on how we fix gun violence in America. And he didn’t change ours. But maybe we understand one another a little better. Here’s what I came away with that I wasn’t so sure of before the meeting: Ted Cruz is a human being. He is a real person. He isn’t a villain in a movie. He cares when these shootings happen. When people on my side of this fight say he doesn’t, they’re wrong.
I hope he came away with the fact that we are caring people, and supporters of the Second Amendment, just not unlimited gun rights. I hope he recognizes a little bit more the fear parents have throughout the country and by listening to Fred’s gut-wrenching story of loss, I hope he understands the pain and devastation of these fears realized. And I hope AND pray that he will find the courage to evolve enough from his calcified ideology to use his power in the Senate to convince the Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to debate, deliberate and move on the gun violence prevention bills that are on the table.
Because ultimately, that’s what matters. We can have all the public debate we want. But the Senate is supposed to be our highest deliberative body, and right now, it’s not deliberating, it’s obstructing. Our safety and progress are being held hostage by the GOP leadership, and no amount of Twitter-inspired meetings can stop that. I hope Cruz’s professed love of the law motivates him to push his party into making some.
Ninety percent of Americans, Democrats and Republicans, agree that we need a fix to the problem of gun violence in this country. Maybe by talking to each other as humans, with open hearts and listening to each other with open ears, we can inspire our leaders to do the same.
Isn’t it worth a try? For your children. For my children. For us all.