SAN JOSE, CA --When asked if they've ever fired a gun, a vast majority of about 400 progressive activists in the audience raised their hands in a surprising moment during a panel discussion on preventing gun violence after the Newtown massacre.
"Conservatives look at progressives and think we've never handled a gun," said moderater Jehmu Greene, a Fox News contributor and immigration reform advocate, at the Netroots Nation conference on Friday.
Painting gun control advocates as "anti-gun" helped the gun rights lobby defeat the Senate gun regulations bill, panelists said.
"I come from Utah where we have gun racks in our Volvos," said Lily Eskelsen García, vice president of the National Education Association. "We had firearms in the home. I know you can be a responsible gun owner. This is about keeping rapid-fire firearms out of the hands of the most dangerous people."
Mark Glaze, director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, told the audience that his father was a licensed gun dealer in Colorado. He said he grew up hunting with his father and uncles.
Gun rights groups helped defeat the Senate gun control bill by shifting the debate away from responsible gun ownership, panel members said.
"They build on fear," said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. "They changed the debate and made it about government control and government taking away guns. Bullsh*t!! This is a debate about responsible gun ownership and what kind of country you want to have."
Panel members urged the audience of activists to continue to press for responsible gun ownership. They said gun rights groups have been unwilling to consider any reforms.
"They will subtly move the discussion to preparing for the next tragedy," Eskelsen-Garcia said. "They have no intention of doing anything to keep the most dangerous weapons out of the hands of the most dangerous people. All of their answers will always involve buying more guns. We are not giving up."
Pro gun-control Congresswoman Robin Kelly, D-Ill., said she got asked why she hates guns.
"The story gets out that you hate guns and you want to take my guns," Kelly said.
She urged activists to be clear with the message that gun control is not about confiscating anyone's weapons.
"We are preaching to the choir," she said to the audience of liberals. "But the choir needs practice."