Today marks the fourth Veterans Day since I transitioned from the active-duty Marine Corps to reserve status. It’s meant to be a day when Americans celebrate the service of living veterans like me, but I find the holiday to be bittersweet.
This is also the fourth Veterans Day since the death of my father, a Navy veteran. We never got to celebrate this holiday together as veterans. That opportunity was taken from us by gun violence.
My father, Chris Hixon, was the athletic director at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. He was killed by a gunman during the mass shooting at the school in February 2018. I left active duty four months later.
This October, I watched the monster who murdered my father and 16 others enter a guilty plea for his crimes. This set off yet another roller coaster of emotions for my family and our community. Through it all, I maintain focus by lending my time, energy and story to the fight to end gun violence.
As a veteran, I am often lauded for my service. It makes me uncomfortable. However, I realize when I am put on a “pedestal,” I might as well speak about gun violence prevention and responsible firearm ownership while I am up there. I may no longer deploy abroad to protect my fellow Americans, but I can still fulfill my oath to protect them here at home.
When I talk about guns, I know what I’m talking about. I was trained on many different military firearms, and I was taught that their purpose is to take human life to protect myself and my fellow Marines. The level of devastation these firearms can cause was drilled into me. In the military, we say, “You can’t take a bullet back.”
I was taught that using your weapon is a last resort. I worry that many people in America don’t think that way about guns, because of the extreme rhetoric from the gun lobby and the many gun safety laws that have been rolled back.
This isn’t about politics for me. I’m an independent. I’m a gun owner, and for a short time in college I was a member of the NRA (though I can no longer support that organization). I fought to defend the Constitution, and I believe in the Second Amendment. I simply want to keep guns out of the wrong hands.
After my dad’s murder, I read numerous comments lamenting how a veteran who safely deployed overseas could then be killed working in a school. I believe the solution to gun violence will involve both changing the culture around firearms and putting in place common sense laws.
That is why this Veterans Day — instead of thanking me for my service — consider what actions you might take to honor my Navy-veteran father, the entire Parkland community and the more than 100 people who die each day from gun violence in the United States.
Tell your senators to strengthen our background checks laws to cover gun sales between strangers, especially those who meet online or at gun shows. This will help prevent people with dangerous histories — the kind who might perpetrate a mass shooting — from purchasing firearms.
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Urge Congress to pass extreme risk protection order legislation that allows family members to petition for the temporary removal of guns from the home when someone in the household is a threat to themself or others. Extreme risk protection orders (ERPOs) are not a perfect intervention, but they have saved countless lives in the 19 states where the law passed. If Florida had ERPOs before 2018, it could have stopped the Parkland shooting.
And, if you are a gun owner like me, be certain your guns are stored securely and separate from ammunition. This will not only reduce unintentional shootings, but can also help prevent suicides by gun.
No single action or policy will eliminate gun violence in our country, but a holistic approach on the part of citizens and legislators can significantly reduce the amount of tragic incidents we see almost everyday.
We owe it to all those who served in the military — many who have survived dangerous situations overseas — to ensure that they can live in a country where we all feel safe from gun violence. And, I owe it to my dad to commemorate this Veterans Day by working to rid our country of gun violence and to make this nation worthy of him and all those who fought to defend it.
Thomas Hixon is the vice president of the Chris Hixon Athletic Scholarship Fund and a member of the Everytown Veteran Advisory Council. He served as a Marine Corps officer.