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In the heat of June 1999—as a first-year “new cadet” at West Point—I learned how to assemble, fire, clean, and store an M-16 assault rifle. In the years that followed I became a trained user of the M-4 assault rifle, the M-9 Beretta, the MK-19 automatic grenade launcher and many other weapons.  Those on the political right like to pretend that advocates of basic gun reforms are weak and afraid, unfamiliar with firearms and ignorant of their potential. I am not. We are not.

In over a decade as an Army officer, I served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, two of the most violent places on earth. I am extremely familiar with military-grade firearms, and I am excruciatingly aware of their potential. I have witnessed that potential in bloodshed and mayhem - and the death of too many friends.

There is a time and a place for everything, and the time and place for weapons of war is not 2:19 p.m. on a Wednesday at the local public high school. In the name of the victims in Parkland, as the husband of a public school teacher, and father of two public school students, I join those calling for new gun laws, now: universal background checks for all gun sales and a ban on bump stocks, assault rifles, and high capacity magazines.

My mother and father have told me that when I was a child, the school-day hours were a time when they could relax: they knew not only that I was learning, but that I was safe. Such security and certainty are luxuries with which I and millions of other American parents are today unfamiliar. Two threats to Virginia schools were posted on social media just this week. But what can we do? Again and again, school rampages—and office rampages, and night club rampages, and outdoor concert rampages—end innocent lives, and too many politicians have little more to offer than thoughts and prayers. Many observers have drawn the conclusion that nothing will ever change. But there is reason for hope. Politics-as-usual can be overcome. Connecticut, in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy, instituted a number of gun laws in line with what I have described above. Their effect has been marked and encouraging, and reasonable, responsible, mentally-healthy gun owners have not been affected.

Virginia is not Baghdad, and freedom is not the same as a free-for-all. The best use of our liberties is not to treat the sale and possession of firearms as though we are all living on the front lines of a war. I learned about the consequences of cowardice in our leadership while serving in Iraq. I also learned that the best use of our liberties is to think clearly, to argue persuasively, and to make ourselves safe. We should do all three, and raise our voices once again. The question: Is Congresswoman Comstock listening?

Dan Helmer

A West Point Graduate, Rhodes Scholar, and Democratic candidate for U.S. Congress in Virginia’s 10th District


Jonathan - You are correct.  I used the wrong phrase, which was from my days living in NY where registering with party affiliation was listed on the voter rolls.

How can you be a registered democrat when there is no party affiliation on he registration form, just curious?

Dan - First I will say thank you for your service.  However, can you explain to me why President Obama and the Democrat Party pushed for and enacted Obamacare, but did nothing to ban assault weapons?  Clearly they have the power and the votes to push one agenda but choose not to push the other.  It wasn’t a pick one over the other choice as they could have pushed both.  We can go back as far as 1999, there have been 4 Presidents (2 from each party) and several variations of Congress, yet assault weapons are still available.  Not sure how one party is to blame on this matter. 

BTW I am a registered Democrat in the 10th Dist.

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