Why we should talk about guns

Opinion: Ken Trainor

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By Ken Trainor

Staff writer

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:

  1. The political climate at the time wasn't conducive to taking any practical steps that wouldn't end up in a costly court battle,
  2. 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
  3. 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 cyn42z@comcast.net.

In the meantime, Dave and I will continue our dialogue in these pages.

Email: ktrainor@wjinc.com

Reader Comments

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The dude  

Posted: January 30th, 2013 11:00 PM

rj, I choose a society where we can worry less about gun violence, which is exactly what the UK achieved with it's ban, i.e. they have less gun violence. The idea that an "armed society is a polite society" is completely delusional. It sounds like you belong in the wild west where the fastest drawer is the winner.


Posted: January 30th, 2013 6:01 PM

Dude - Sounds like you would choose to empower criminals, as the UK did when they gave up that freedom to defend themselves in their Bill of Rights, They now know that an armed society is a polite society.

The dude  

Posted: January 30th, 2013 4:55 PM

There hasn't been a single shooting in a school since the Dunblane massacre in 1996 which was the motivation for the ban in the UK that was enacted soon after the shooting. I respect a country who recognises a major societal problem and has the intelligence and courage to make changes for the better...

The dude  

Posted: January 30th, 2013 4:45 PM

Cont... This has been a culture of the British police for a long time, and continues to be so, and it is a culture they are proud of.

The dude  

Posted: January 30th, 2013 4:43 PM

Rj, shooting have been dropping ever since the ban, and crime with "real" gun have been down since the gun ban... We are talking about "GUN CRIME"right now. The UK, in the past decade has experienced societal shifts and issues, and these are unrelated to the gun ban. If it weren't Thor the gun ban, there would be a lot more people getting shot. Only a small portion of special units carry firearms currently in the UK, the majority of regular cops and beat cops do not carry cont...


Posted: January 30th, 2013 4:03 PM

Not so Dude- the UK is considering banning kitchen knives due to the out of control stabbings. Within a decade of the UK handgun ban & confiscation handgun crime has doubled. Armed street gangs have some British police carrying guns for the first time. People with no empathy or respect for life & those with mental issues are the problem.

The Dude  

Posted: January 30th, 2013 3:02 PM

Ray, the UK has their fair share of societal problems, so just because they don't mimic the issues in the US doesn't mean they don't exist. There are plenty of violent street gangs, race and poverty driven crime in the UK, and they'd be a whole lot more of a problem if the gun ban did not happen.

The Dude  

Posted: January 30th, 2013 2:48 PM

Ray, Those "gang banger guns" were once legal, and became illegal when some legal gun buyer sold it to them. Putting more "legal" guns into society results in a limitless supply of guns to those "gang bangers".

The dude  

Posted: January 30th, 2013 2:34 PM

Ray, the thing those stats don't tell you, and the British police do, is that the vast majority of "gun crimes" committed in the UK are done with BB guns and imitation guns, so "gun crimes" with "real" guns are much lower than what those stats state. When it comes to recording "gun crimes" the UK government counts crimes with "real" guns, replicas and BB guns as the same. However, the actual number shootings have dropping significantly since the gun ban, and continue to do so.

Ray Simpson from Oak Park  

Posted: January 30th, 2013 7:10 AM

Dude- Recent data from the Home Office seems to dispute your belief. See: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-154307/Gun-crime-soars-35.html Granted they are much lower in GB than here but they don't seem to have the gang/drug turf wars we see in our inner city. Those gang banger guns are already illegal and the thugs should be in jail.

The dude  

Posted: January 30th, 2013 2:19 AM

Concerned, I agree that just banning guns in Oak Park is a bit useless if they're easily bought in surrounding areas, but a nation wide gun ban would be very effective, because it's a lot harder for people to import guns illegally, and a lot of people who kill or commit suicide impulsively would not have the same amount of ease to do so. Gun accidents in the home would also be greatly reduced. Gun crime was greatly reduced in the UK after a nation wide hand/magazine gun ban.


Posted: January 22nd, 2013 9:01 PM

Concerned - That hasn't stopped the government from banning drugs. So are you advocating that we stop our ban on drugs?

Concerned from Oak Park  

Posted: January 17th, 2013 12:15 PM

There are no easy answers here. If you could ban them in OP you could still purchase them elsewhere and bring them in. If you ban them in the country what's to stop someone buying guns in Mexico or Canada or the internet. Any law against guns would be unenforceable.

Jim Coughlin from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: January 16th, 2013 5:52 PM

OPRF Dad, aren't you expressing your own persona bias by insulting President Obama and Village workers?


Posted: January 16th, 2013 9:56 AM

Acceptable topics of discussion for the WJ and its staff: (1) guns, (2) gun violence, (3) evil Republicans, (4) the "achievement gap", (5) the lack of violent crime in OP, (6) the need for more spending by the Village, (7) the evil Catholic Church, (8) OP Streetscape, (9) underpaid Village workers, (10) the hotel at Forest and Lake, and (11) Lord Obama. An unbiased media, or at least one aware of how to operate a checkbook register might be a refreshing change.


Posted: January 16th, 2013 8:14 AM

"The nation has struggled with addressing how best to reduce gun violence following last month's tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Responding to calls for gun control, the National Rifle Association attempted to shift blame for mass homicides away from guns to cultural influences such as video games or entertainment. No one can accuse the NRA of not being clever. At least not until it released a gun-themed shooting game less than a month after condemning the video game industry."


Posted: January 16th, 2013 8:11 AM

"A part-time student shot a longtime administrator at a downtown St. Louis business school in the chest before turning the gun on himself Tuesday, sparking a "chaotic scene" with police swarming the building and panicked students fleeing, police said."


Posted: January 16th, 2013 8:10 AM

"A gunman firing into a vehicle killed two people and wounded a juvenile Tuesday as they sat in the parking lot of an eastern Kentucky community college."

Ray Simpson from Oak Park  

Posted: January 16th, 2013 8:03 AM

Ken- How can there be any reasonable dialogue with you when your column drips with condescension? You talk about not meeting reasonable gun owners - how would you know? You are, probably the last person anyone would tell of their marksmanship interests, because it is assumed you would prejudge their worth to the community. You fault the Supreme Court for failing to believe as you do and pine for the day we have 3 more Justice Kagens on the high court. They supported our constitutional rights which is their function in our government. You continue to falsely attribute evil intent to the NRA with no proof other than the hours you have spent wringing your hands in cowering fear. This community could use the cost of the tons of newsprint and the barrels of ink you have wasted tilting at the second amendment and its advocates. My read of your meeting with Dave was that he was willing to hear you out and you chose to be inflexible, condescending and holier than thou. No wonder nothing gets resolved.

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