People tend to be surprised when I tell them I was a Boy Scout. An Eagle Scout, in fact. But what really shocks them is when they find out that my very first merit badge was in Rifle & Shotgun Shooting. I’m guessing it has something to do with their assumption that most journalists are liberal, and that all liberals hate guns. But the fact of the matter is that I grew up in a community where guns were part of the culture. From an early age, I was taught gun safety and to respect the responsibilities that came with the constitutional right to bear arms. I still believe in that right.

Today, however, I recognize that guns have become an incredibly destructive force in our country. And yet, they are also one of those “third rail” topics that can’t be discussed in polite company or in the halls of government without a monumental fight. Here in Colorado, where we’ve endured two of the nation’s highest profile gun tragedies, there has been no serious discussion of how we might address the mounting violence while still maintaining the liberties of our responsible citizens. Even during the first presidential debate back in October—held just miles from the site of the Aurora theater massacre—guns were never mentioned once.

That has to stop.

Over the years, we’ve often told the stories of lives ruined by gun violence, perhaps most memorably in 2009, when we revisited survivors of the Columbine High School shooting a decade after that massacre. This month, we’re turning the tables. In “Bearing Arms” (page 102), we introduce you to nine everyday Coloradans who own guns and give them a chance to tell you, in their own words, why firearms are an important part of their lives. You may not agree with all of their reasons—I certainly don’t—but it’s important that we all get past our knee-jerk assumptions and start listening. “At some point we need to find a middle ground, even if there’s still a broad expanse to cross,” says Martha Altman, a gun owner from Broomfield, whom you can read more about on page 103. “People on both sides of the issue need to at least try moving toward each other and understanding each other.” She’s right. Until the conversation honestly begins, we have no chance of ever ending the bloodshed that has already claimed far too many of our neighbors.