By Ken Trainor
Had breakfast with a gun-rights advocate last Thursday morning at Panera. Dave Schweig, 76, is a longtime resident of Oak Park (two stints). He was involved in the original handgun ban back-and-forth (against it, of course) in the early 1980s. So his history with this issue is long.
We don't share much common ground, but we do have a few things in common: We're both straight-shooters (so to speak) and have strong convictions, but neither of us is inflexible.
In fact, Dave Schweig is the most reasonable gun advocate I've ever met — the only one I've ever met. Dave, meanwhile, said I seem to be surprisingly uncynical for a journalist. While that may be a commentary on both gun advocates and journalists, it also likely says something about how many of each we've met.
And that's the thing about starting a dialogue — it involves meeting people, and "meeting" means more than just sharing space. As philosopher/theologian Martin Buber said, "All real living is meeting."
So this was a start, stepping out of our comfort zones. Dave is trying to launch an ad hoc citizens commission on the issue of gun access, ownership and possession (as in "conceal and carry," which will soon become legal in Illinois). For me, the issue is regulating guns for the sake of public safety.
Thanks to high-profile mass murders in Tucson, Ariz. (survived, barely, by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords); Aurora, Colo. (the movie theater massacre); and Newtown, Conn. (no reminder necessary) — not to mention the vigilante shooting of Trayvon Martin — what once was a local issue (the Supreme Court overturning municipal handgun bans, including the one in Oak Park) has now vaulted back onto the national agenda, along with climate change (thanks to Hurricane Sandy) and same-sex marriage.
Just four months ago who'd have guessed?
Dave is hoping to convene 10-12 local residents with expertise on the firearms issue to engage in some in-depth discussion from a variety of angles, followed by recommendations for the village board and staff to consider.
The Oak Park Health Department conducted a similar public process in 2012 and ultimately decided not to issue any recommendations to the village board, based on several factors:
- The political climate at the time wasn't conducive to taking any practical steps that wouldn't end up in a costly court battle,
- the public forums were stacked with gun supporters, many from outside Oak Park, because gun advocates at the time were much more passionate and mobilized than gun-control proponents, and
- those who do oppose gun proliferation did not make their voices heard because, given government gridlock and the cowardice of elected officials, this fight seemed futile.
So why fight the fight now? Because a year later, everything has changed. Aurora and Newtown altered the entire political landscape, as did the re-election of Barack Obama. What previously seemed unthinkable, now seems possible, even inevitable.
Some still insist that nothing will change, but don't forget: More massacres are on the way — many, many, many more — just as more unimaginably destructive storms like Hurricane Sandy (only much, much, much worse) are coming. Justifying inaction — or resigning yourself to it — is a luxury we can no longer afford. It's time to take action at the national, state and local levels.
Dave Schweig thinks Oak Park shouldn't wait to see what the state and Congress will do about gun regulation. The Seventh District Court, he points out, has given Illinois five months to develop a conceal-and-carry law. We should be developing our own ordinance, he says, in order to have some control, similar to the way Oak Park passed a fair housing ordinance before the federal legislation went into effect in the late-1960s.
Do gun advocates like Dave Schweig have their interests advanced by pursuing this discussion? Presumably yes. Otherwise he wouldn't be so motivated. I don't know what all of those interests are, but that's what the discussion would reveal.
The outcome I'm hoping for is a set of clear, reasonable, enforceable gun-control measures that protect public safety and can stand up in court should they be challenged. The pressure to make gun regulation more effective will only intensify in the next few years (as the body count rises), and the Supreme Court majority will eventually change as well.
History is not on the side of the NRA, and its extreme rigidity will marginalize the organization more and more as time goes on. It will be replaced, I trust, with the voices of reasonable gun supporters who understand that, in the long run, their right the bear arms depends entirely on developing a system of effective gun regulation.
I'm willing to give Dave Schweig — and any other reasonable gun advocates I haven't met yet — the benefit of the doubt.
That's one of my favorite phrases, "benefit of the doubt." It's the first step on the long road known as dialogue.
So if you're an Oak Park resident (sorry, locals only), have interest and expertise to offer, and are willing to take part in a citizens commission on responsible gun ownership (defining what "responsible" means in this community), give Dave Schweig a call (708-383-3850) or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime, Dave and I will continue our dialogue in these pages.