For the last year the Gun Rights and Responsibilities Committee (GRRC), an ad hoc volunteer citizens group, has been meeting in an unsuccessful effort to achieve consensus between the gun rights and the gun responsibilities factions of the committee with respect to a limited number of gun violence issues, as well as proposed actions to address those issues.
The GRRC focused on two separate and distinct gun violence problems plaguing our society today. The first is the gang-related gun violence occurring every day on the West and South sides of Chicago. The second is the Sandy Hook-type mass-shooting tragedies that are taking place across our country with a frequency and regularity that is shocking.
The question is not whether such a tragedy will take place again, but rather when will it occur?
The two factions of the GRRC were able to agree on one critical goal. Access to firearms by criminals, those with a history of serious mental illness, and minors must be eliminated or greatly reduced. The GRRC made some collective headway on the need for greater gun-owner training and the need to secure firearms in the home to prevent access by minors or theft by criminals, but we did not reach final agreement.
We never made progress on three remaining proposed actions — universal background checks, limiting gun purchases to one per month per authorized individual, and prohibiting the manufacture, sale and possession of ammunition magazines containing more than 10 rounds. The gun responsibilities faction of the GRRC intended to address gang-related gun violence through universal background checks, limiting gun purchases, and greater security for firearms stored in the home. We intended to address mass shootings like Sandy Hook through universal background checks and through a 10-round clip-size limitation.
The GRRC stopped meeting as a group several months ago after failing to make any progress on these proposed actions and for the last two months, we have attempted to involve the public in the discussion. The rights and the responsibilities factions of the GRRC have discussed their respective positions in the Viewpoints section of Wednesday Journal. In the last couple of weeks, two members of the rights side have, independent of the other members of the faction, expressed support for the concept of universal background checks. John Erickson has proposed a universal background check system that would work differently from the system envisioned by the responsibilities faction, but it nevertheless provides a basis for a genuine discussion of the concept.
Brian Slowiak, just last week, expressed his support — in principle — for universal background checks. Brian accompanied this statement of support with a set of about 50 questions intended to tease out some of the details with respect to a universal background check system. While a number of these questions seek details that would, ultimately, be developed by legislative staffs with input from the agencies charged with administering the program, there is still meat that can be added to the bones of the general proposal that can heighten the comfort level with such a program. A free-wheeling discussion of ideas and potential details can also contribute to people's comfort levels.
In the interest of furthering this discussion, I will summarize the elements of our proposed universal background check system and present additional core elements.
The core elements of our proposal include a nationwide, real-time, background check on all sales and transfers of guns, conducted through federally licensed gun dealers who are obligated to keep records of all such transfers. A real-time computer check of criminal history record information, conducted at the state or federal level, at the request of the licensed gun dealer recording the transaction, must be conducted with minimum inconvenience to legal gun owners. As Ken Trainor said in the Jan. 8 edition of Wednesday Journal, "No exceptions for gun shows or anything else."
The criminal history record information system, or CHRI, already exists and has long been available to law enforcement for authorized purposes. Universal background check legislation would authorize CHRI record checks to be conducted at the request of state law enforcement — in all likelihood, the State Police — as a part of the universal background check process being conducted through a federally licensed gun dealer.
The world has not stood still while the GRRC has been engaged in its discussions. In August of 2013, Governor Quinn signed a piece of legislation into law that will breathe new life into Illinois' stale FOID card system. Instead of relying on FOID cards, based on up to 10-year-old information, for the sale of firearms, private gun owners wishing to sell a gun must contact the State Police, who will conduct a real-time record search to determine the real-time status of an FOID cardholder seeking to purchase a gun.
If everything checks out, the gun owner will obtain an approval number from the State Police that will be good for 30 days. This law went into effect on Jan. 14 and is intended to serve as a tool to stop weapons trafficking. This law is limited in scope. It does not close the loopholes, and it only applies to private owners. The details of its administration are just being developed.
The point is that it acknowledges the importance of real-time record checks and is a step in the right direction.
Finally, there are numerous reasonable answers to each of Brian Slowiak's approximately 50 questions seeking details about the administration of a proposed program that is necessarily conceptual at this point in time. Ultimately, if we are successful, and universal background check legislation does become a reality, we will be able to advocate for specific provisions in the legislation at the time it is being considered, but much of the detail will be developed over time, both through rules and regulations and through case law.
What seems to be most important at this point is that we seem to be working toward consensus, in principle, on the core concepts of a universal background check system. We can make the details part of the discussion, but we need to remain focused on first achieving consensus on the broader concept.
There was a cover story in the Jan. 5 Sunday edition of the New York Times that speaks to the courage it will take to actually work toward consensus on universal background checks. The story is about Dick Metcalf, a pre-eminent gun journalist, longtime editor of Guns and Ammo Magazine, and a resident of Barry, Ill.
In October, Mr. Metcalf wrote a column about gun laws titled, "Lets Talk Limits," in which he stated, "The fact is all constitutional rights are regulated, always have been, and need to be." I should mention that Mr. Metcalf also taught history at Cornell and Yale. The backlash was swift and fierce. Two gun manufacturers called Mr. Metcalf's editor and informed him they would no longer do business with the magazine if he continued to work there. Mr. Metcalf was let go immediately. He is still contemplating how a self-described "Second Amendment fundamentalist," who keeps a .38 snub-nose Smith and Wesson revolver within easy reach, has been ostracized from his community.
"Compromise is a bad word these days," he said. "People think it means giving up your principles."
We know the opposite is true.
Thank you, Brian and John, for supporting and being willing to discuss the concept of universal background checks. We, the gun responsibilities faction of the GRRC, fully support your Second Amendment rights and respect your willingness to seek common-ground solutions to gun violence in our country.
Ray Heise is the former village attorney of the village of Oak Park. The other members of the responsibilities side of the GRRC are John Barrett, Joyce Champelli, Sandra Shimon, Paul Sakol, Judith Gaietto-Grace, and Ken Trainor, all of whom support this statement.