Opinion editor's note: This article, part of our New Voices collection, was written by a first-time contributor to Star Tribune Opinion. For more information about our efforts to continually expand the range of views we publish, see startribune.com/opinion/newvoices.


"Dad." It's the best name I've ever been called.

Being a dad is not merely the default result of supplying half a child's DNA. It results from being there, not just physically, but mentally, emotionally and spiritually as well. It is a commitment — a lifelong one at that — and not just a passing encounter. The mere act of becoming a biological father does not make one a dad, just as buying a cello doesn't make one Yo-Yo Ma.

In precisely that same way, the mere act of buying a firearm does not make one a "good guy with a gun." To fulfill that role, one must not only learn well the particulars of firearm safety, but also be mentally and emotionally prepared for the possibility of using lethal force against another human being. We know the difficulty of that preparation even for those in law enforcement, and we know of the toll visited upon them by the resultant strain of responsibility.

Just as it does not infringe a right to become a biological father, the Constitution guarantees as well an American's right to keep and bear firearms. One can blunder into conflict with either of these rights through good intentions, but in each case meaning well is insufficient to the task. We must respect the rights guaranteed by the Constitution, even if it cannot so readily mandate responsible exercise of those rights.

Still, we as a society can recognize and reward a responsible exercise of rights. We should also reject, or at very least not encourage, irresponsible action that can lead to harm. Just as we ought not encourage attitudes and activities leading to children growing up without a dad, no good is done by encouraging the acquisition of firearms by those unmindful of the awesome responsibility accompanying their possession. This is all the more true when that encouragement originates in political or economic motives.

What message is sent, for example, when elected officials and their entire families pose for Christmas card photos with weapons suitable for use in actual combat? With effort, one can no doubt construct legitimate-sounding reasons for such imaging. With ordinary common sense, on the other hand, one is much more likely to see virtue-signaling in action. The overall effect is anything but to stress the momentous obligations of responsible gun ownership, and instead to encourage its trivialization.

Responsible leadership does not encourage irresponsible personal activity that produces children without dads. Neither does it encourage irresponsible messaging that can, and has, taken children from their dads. Happy Father's Day. Make it a dad's day.

James Vlcek lives in Woodbury.