By BRANDON PAYKAMIAN, Johnson City Press

UNICOI, Tenn. (AP) - Considering much of the recent rhetoric surrounding gun control - an issue of contention between most liberals and conservatives - some may be surprised to find members of the Washington County Democratic Party hosting their own marksmanship competition.

Founded by party executive committee member and 2016 7th House District candidate Mike Morgan, Safety On! is a gun and shooting club focusing on firearm safety and "responsible ownership."

The group, which Morgan said seeks "sensible gun legislation while protecting the Second Amendment," held its first marksmanship competition Wednesday night at the Scioto Shooting Range in Unicoi after forming in June.

"Our current membership is a little over 1,000 people, largely from the Tri-Cities area, although we have members from all across the globe," Morgan said before the event. "There are a little over 800 members from the United States, and over 200 from outside of the U.S."

Out of the roughly 30 percent of Americans who own guns, Morgan said "many would be surprised" to know that liberals are included in that number. While Morgan said he and other Democrats believe in the right to bear arms, he believes the issue of "sensible gun reform legislation," gun safety and discussions on how to protect children from school shootings still need to be addressed.

He added that he's "disappointed that our local leaders have not addressed this situation more seriously.

"There has been a narrative that Democrats are anti-gun ownership, which is absolutely false. We are not 'anti-gun,'" he said. "We are seeking legislative solutions to the gun violence epidemic raging across America, without impeding on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens.

"August is approaching, and that means that schools will be in session again. There has been a serious problem of school shootings in recent years, and our group wants to help come up with ideas to prevent further tragedies from happening," Morgan continued. "That discussion will require all Americans to come together and have a serious talk about stopping senseless violence against our kids."

While Morgan and other liberals are against "unfettered access to firearms," Morgan said he thinks concerns about self-defense are valid.

An increasing number of liberals and left-leaning folks have decided gun ownership might not be such a bad idea in the midst of a recent resurgence of violent white nationalism and the "alt-right," a phenomenon that many believe poses a dangerous threat to people of color and the LGBTQ community.

"There are definitely some cases in which people should use their Second Amendment rights to defend themselves or their property," Morgan said. "I don't believe that everyone should have unfettered access to firearms, especially those who have a history of violence against others.

"There are many in the LGBTQ community (for instance) that would benefit from the added safety provided by carrying a sidearm. Those individuals should be aware of the dangers that are present to them in today's very volatile society, but also be self-conscious enough as to not become a danger to others," he continued. "Gun safety is something that any person - no matter their identity - should take seriously."

Information from: Johnson City Press,

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