Many of the statements contained in Ray Simpson's Oct. 23 Viewpoints letter [Gun owners just want to be left alone] require a response in the same public forum in which they were made. First, he added "Rest in Peace" to the Gun Rights and Responsibilities Group (GRRG) of which both he and I are members. To my knowledge, it is not dead.
The GRRG is a group of concerned citizens composed of 8-10 members on each side of the gun issue, who have been meeting (I thought, until reading Ray's letter) in an effort to find common ground on ways to combat gun violence in our country. We have been meeting for the last 10 months and — not for lack of effort — have not been able to achieve consensus on major issues like universal background checks and limiting ammunition clips to 10 or fewer rounds, although we have had some success in the areas of gun safety training and the safe home storage of weapons.
We adjourned our last meeting with the gun rights side of GRRG indicating that it would attempt, by mid- November, to produce a universal background check proposal based on the use of the FOID Card. If no proposal is forthcoming by mid-November, the GRRG meetings will, sadly, conclude with no agreement on the major issues of universal background checks and limiting magazine capacity. Until that time, I choose to remain hopeful that this divergent group of citizens will do what our elected officials in Washington and Springfield have been unable to do: reach agreement on universal background checks and magazine capacity.
Ray says gun owners "just want to be left alone" and that gun owners participated in the GRRG meetings "only to protect our Second Amendment rights." He also makes the observation that "the problem [of gun violence] exists mostly outside our community."
All these statements conjure up the same basic response: "With rights come responsibilities."
I like Ray Simpson a lot, but I can't let him assert that "not one member of this committee wants a mentally ill person to have access to a firearm" and "none of us wants felons, gangbangers, or drug dealers to have guns of any description," and in the next breath throw up his hands and deny any possibility of a gun regulation solution to these problems simply because he believes that gun violence problems stem from "politically explosive issues like welfare, poverty, race, education, political corruption, destruction of family values and on and on." Or that the solution to these gun violence problems should be found by addressing these societal issues to the exclusion of reasonable gun regulation.
If Ray Simpson's logic were employed whenever a new amendment to the Illinois Criminal Code was considered, much of the code would never have been adopted because leadership would have been otherwise consumed rooting out the societal wrongs that caused yesterday's victims of society's ills to become today's offenders.
We do not have the luxury of being able to untangle society's underlying problems every time we must address a specific problem.
More importantly, gun rights advocates cannot avoid every effort to address gun violence through gun regulation simply because such regulation might cause them the minor inconvenience of waiting a day or two longer to purchase a gun.
With rights come responsibilities.
In his letter, Ray attempts to write off all efforts to regulate the sale of weapons to prevent them from falling into the hands of criminals, the mentally ill and minors (aka "universal background checks") and to prohibit the manufacture and sale of ammunition clips capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition (except for the police and military) as "dreaming up endless regulations to place controls on the legitimate, reasonable, non-violent gun owner."
The two pieces of legislation proposed by the Gun Responsibilities half of the GRRG, are universal background checks and a prohibition against the future manufacture, sale and ownership of ammunition clips capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition. To the contrary, these proposals are far from "dreamed up." They are designed to have a direct impact on the types of gun violence we are now seeing. They are also not endless. Rather, they are limited in both scope and number. They are also the same proposed pieces of legislation supported by 85% of the American public and 60% of NRA members in a nationwide poll conducted just a few months ago.
The Gun Responsibilities side of the GRRG, through the clear and concise writing of Ken Trainor, prepared for and distributed to the Gun Rights side, of which Ray Simpson was a member the last time I looked, is a well-reasoned position statement on these issues and others, which I assume will see the light of day in these pages at the conclusion of the GRRG process.
Ray also makes the argument that additional gun regulations would only serve to place more "controls on the legitimate, reasonable, non-violent gun owner" while "a lawless, less civilized group of citizens is not one bit concerned about any law, rule, ordinance or regulation we might concoct." Clearly, every law that is enacted in the U.S. is generally written to be adhered to by all its citizens. I suppose, using Ray Simpson's logic, one could make the argument that laws against murder and rape have a disproportionate impact on law-abiding citizens because they will obey the law while the murderers and rapists will ignore the law and continue to rape and murder. Can anyone seriously consider such a specious and absurd argument as a reason not to enact laws against murder and rape? I think not. It's also not a good reason to not enact universal background checks that prohibit the purchase of weapons by criminals, the mentally ill and minors.
Ray does propose one gun regulation solution to the gun violence problems mentioned above. He asks, "Why haven't we attempted to develop draconian restrictions on the violent, irrational people who possess and use guns outside the law?" He suggests that we haven't done it "because its hard." I would submit that what is really hard is the enactment of legislation that not only addresses a specific problem like gun violence, but also respects our individual constitutional rights in the process — that is, the rights that we all have, even those who stand accused. The Second Amendment is now an individual constitutional right. Let's not forget about every citizen's right to equal protection under the law.
I agree with Ray that our current gun laws need to be aggressively enforced. Every member of the Gun Responsibilities side of the GRRG agrees with him on that point. The problem is that without a universal background check system in place to close the loopholes through which criminals, the mentally ill and minors can legally obtain guns in the first place, the aggressive prosecution of existing illegal gun possession laws alone will not make a dent in the problem.
Only by having effective laws in place to close the loopholes for legally obtaining guns in the first place can the aggressive prosecution of existing gun possession laws make a difference. In other words, you can't keep a leaking boat from filling with water only by continuously bailing it out. At some point, you have to fix the leaks too.
Universal background checks and magazine capacity limitations are the kind of straightforward gun regulations that can have an impact on gun violence in our country. We just need to possess the will, as a people, to have these laws enacted. That begins with accepting a fundamental proposition: With rights come responsibilities.
Ray Heise is the former Oak Park village attorney.
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