Bullying: 1: to treat abusively 2: to affect by means of force or coercion. Synonym: to intimidate — Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary In 2012, bullying was dragged from hidden corners of school playgrounds and lunchrooms to the principal’s office. Recognition that bullying may be part of the root cause for recent horrific mass killings has helped catapult this insidious problem into the national spotlight. The government is even involved; its website stopbullying.gov provides information on how to recognize bullies and stop being a victim. The next step, in light of the Newtown massacre and other sickening assault weapon slaughters of innocents, is to stop the National Rifle Association’s bullying of Congress and state legislatures, where they exert undue influence.The NRA uses bullying tactics to influence politicians, legislation, and elections. Consider the experience of Debra Maggart, a Republican member of the Tennessee House of Representatives, lifelong NRA member, handgun-permit holder, and cosponsor of 10 gun rights bills. When she advocated a compromise on behalf of her conservative caucus on one gun bill, the NRA targeted her successfully for defeat in the 2012 primary. That’ll teach her for being out of goose-step with the NRA. In the New York Times on Dec. 17, Ms. Maggart wrote, “Because of NRA bully tactics, legislators are not free to openly discuss the merits of gun-related legislation. This stifling of discussion does not serve the interest of the public nor of the gun owners. But the NRA gets their way because they know how intimidating they are and they know that lawmakers are afraid to speak openly about what needs to be done.”The NRA exploits the Constitution’s Second Amendment to legitimize its tactics of intimidation and justify its opposition to responsible firearms restriction, such as criminal background checks for weapons sold at gun shows. Over the centuries, the right to bear arms has morphed from muskets to assault rifles. “These weapons are not for hunting deer — they’re for hunting people,” said Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) who promises to introduce gun control legislation in early 2013.Our culture of violence must change for Americans to be safer in schools, movie theaters, shopping malls, at public events, and in our homes.According to George Washington University’s John Sides in the online Washington Post (Dec. 23), recent polling research found that the NRA’s anti-gun control stances are not supported by many gun owners, as well as those who do not own guns. The survey distinguished between gun owners who belong to the NRA and those who do not. For example, 40 percent of non-NRA gun owners supported a national gun registry. The survey also found that “gun owners, regardless of NRA membership, appear to support criminal background checks.” “Gun owners do not speak with one voice about gun control, and, for many gun owners, Wayne LaPierre [NRA President] does not appear to speak for them,” said Sides.If this conclusion is true, gun owners who do not support the extreme views of NRA leadership must speak up now. It’s time that the rest of us denounce the NRA’s bullying tactics and actively support leaders and legislation for meaningful reforms.Bullying is never OK whether at school, at home, on the Internet, or at the highest levels of government. Imagine if everyone whose heart was broken by the Newtown Massacre stood up to the strong-arm tactics of the NRA. We must begin to change — in Congress, in state legislatures and in society. We must start now, in this new year, for happier, healthier and safer years to come. And yes, it is a matter of life and death. • Abby Johnson is a resident of Carson City, and a part-time resident of Baker, Nev. She consults on community development and nuclear waste issues. Her opinions are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of her clients.