A statement about consensus, and the lack thereof, by the Responsibilities Subcommittee of the recently disbanded GRRC:
The Gun Rights and Responsibilities Committee (GRRC), which recently concluded its discussions, is a group of ordinary Oak Park citizens with an extraordinary interest in the issue of Second Amendment rights and its impact on gun violence and public safety.
The committee comprised people on both sides of a longstanding divide, usually characterized as rights vs. responsibilities. Our goal was to bridge that divide (i.e. rights with responsibilities).
For the sake of convenience, we referred to the two "subcommittees" as the "Rights side" and the "Responsibilities side." In so doing, we are not suggesting that the Rights side is indifferent to responsibilities or that the Responsibilities side is indifferent to rights. This was a good-faith effort on both sides to reach a common accord.
As expected, we encountered major disagreements. The nine Rights members believe more guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens means less crime. The seven Responsibilities members believe more effective regulation of guns means less gun violence.
The Rights side has a deep distrust of government and doubts that effective regulation can be legislated without infringing on the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. Their bedrock assumption is that the secret agenda of regulation involves taking away their guns. At the beginning of our sessions, they were calling us "gun-grabbers." At the end, they were still referring to us by that term, in spite of our sincere efforts to reassure them and convince them otherwise.
The Responsibilities side has an equally deep distrust of the National Rifle Association's leadership and doubts they can be trusted to support reasonable regulation. That distrust applies only to the leadership, however, not to the membership — who, polls indicate, are more reasonable.
We knew going in that consensus would be impossible unless a certain trust level was established.
After meeting approximately every three weeks from January through October, usually at the Oak Park Public Library, our comfort level increased. At meetings, members of both sides made a point of sitting next to members of the "opposing side" in order to avoid segregating. For the most part, we warmed up to one another and came to enjoy each other's company.
Unfortunately, the trust level didn't follow.
Our initial goal as a group was to see if we could even talk to one another in a respectful, civil manner. Thanks in part to the efforts of moderator John Troelstrup and the good intentions of all involved, that goal was, for the most part, accomplished.
But we also hoped to serve as a model for civic engagement on this difficult issue by reaching some consensus, and that was not successful for a variety of reasons.
I. Basis for consensus
Our hopes for consensus were based on the following principles:
1) With rights come responsibilities. Because firearms involve lethal force, those responsibilities are significant.
2) Though the right to own and carry a gun is the law of the land, protected by recent Supreme Court decisions, certain people should not have access to firearms (criminals and their straw purchasers, the dangerously mentally ill, and minors).
3) Access to firearms by those who shouldn't have them is currently too easy. This leads to an unacceptable level of gun violence nationwide.
4) The current system of gun regulation, combined with law enforcement efforts, is not effective enough at keeping guns out of the hands of those who shouldn't have them and deterring those who misuse them.
5) We cannot solve this problem, but we believe the situation can be improved. With voluntary efforts by responsible gun owners and through reasonable legislation, we believe a better system can be devised that would make firearms less accessible to those who shouldn't have them and that will result in improved public safety.
6) Any improved system must respect the rights of law-abiding gun owners, should not impose excessively burdensome restrictions on them and cannot involve the development of a "national gun registry," a particularly sensitive issue for the Rights side.
7) If a system can be devised that limits access to guns by the wrong people and if that system doesn't obstruct law-abiding citizens from owning and bearing arms, then responsible gun owners should be willing, in the interest of overall public safety, to accept a reasonable amount of inconvenience in order to reduce crime and gun violence.
8) Gun owners are not the only ones who must accept responsibility. Law enforcement (police and the court system), aided by social service professionals, must do a better job identifying, preventing, intervening, and/or punishing those who use guns irresponsibly.
9) We affirm and defend the rights of citizens to keep and bear arms for legitimate self-defense purposes. We oppose any effort by the government to take away the legally purchased guns of law-abiding citizens.
10) If we approach this issue as allies instead of as adversaries, we stand a much better chance of making the kind of progress that people on both sides of this issue want — a safer society.
II. Measures to reach our goal
Here the two sides differ.
The Rights side favors greater efforts by law enforcement to crack down on criminals, especially gang members. Through swift, consistent punishment after the fact and identifying gang members before the fact, plus having more guns in the hands of law-abiding gun owners on the streets and in public institutions, they believe criminals will be deterred and violent crime will drop. They also favor stronger measures to identify and intervene with people who are dangerously mentally ill (i.e. those who are considered potentially dangerous to themselves or others).
The Responsibilities side in addition to these measures, supports the following preventive efforts:
A. An effective system of consistent, nationwide background checks on all gun purchases and transfers (including gun-show and online sales), conducted through federally licensed gun dealers, will help keep guns away from criminals and the dangerously mentally ill and enable law enforcement to track those who use them for unlawful purposes.
B. A limit on the number of guns purchased per month will make it more difficult for straw buyers to supply criminals with an arsenal.
C. Law-abiding gun owners should be encouraged to do more to secure and store their weapons at home because firearms used by criminals are frequently acquired by stealing them. Tax incentives might encourage firearm owners to take advantage of advancing technology in this regard (for example, guns that can only be fired by the owner). Some agreement was achieved on this issue during our discussions.
D. Limiting ammunition magazines to 10 rounds (except for law enforcement). The purpose is to slow down criminals and mass murderers, who would have to change clips more often, increasing the opportunity to stop them or to escape, thereby saving lives.
E. Both sides agree on the need for comprehensive, in-depth gun safety training for all who own guns. We also agree on the need for intensified law enforcement efforts — but with certain civil liberties safeguards.
III. Concerns and concessions
The language of any consensus statement needs to reflect the concerns of each side and acknowledge the concessions.
The Responsibilities side believes that because "assault weapons" are more lethal, they should be more regulated. The Rights side says it is too difficult to define an "assault weapon" and a ban is too difficult to enforce, especially in an era of modular components and 3D printers.
Though the Responsibilities members favor a ban on assault weapons because we see no justifiable use for them by ordinary citizens — other than gun collectors and for sport at well-regulated firing ranges — we concluded that the two sides would not be able to reach agreement, so we made a major concession on this issue and removed it from our proposals. It should be noted, however, that Oak Park still has an assault weapons ban on its books, and the Responsibilities side supports that ban.
The Responsibilities members support greater efforts on the part of law enforcement to crack down on criminals — as long as those efforts respect constitutional protections and don't lead to a police-state mentality, especially in the inner city. The John Burge torture cases provide a cautionary example of how law enforcement can go too far.
The Responsibilities side also emphasizes that law enforcement measures alone cannot solve the problem of gun violence. Citizens must be willing to do their part and bear some of the responsibility.
The Responsibilities side made a sincere effort to hear the concerns of the Rights members and to reflect those concerns in this statement.
IV. The case for background checks
Both sides are deeply concerned about guns in the hands of criminals, particularly gang members because they account for the largest percentage of gun violence casualties. Both sides are also concerned about guns in the hands of the dangerously mentally ill, who use them to commit mass murder in public spaces.
Both concerns need to be addressed.
Law enforcement alone, however, cannot prevent all guns from getting to criminals and the dangerously mentally ill without creating a hard-core police state, which neither side wants. A police state, after all, would eventually infringe all our rights, including the Second Amendment.
Statistics show that violent crime overall has been dropping nationwide for 20 years (although still much higher than the rest of the developed world). Statistics also indicate that the number of mass-murder incidents has increased dramatically over the last 20 years. The Rights side believes the total number of fatalities from mass-murder shootings is "statistically insignificant" and therefore not worth our legislative efforts. We strongly disagree. The two sides also disagree on the main cause of declining crime rates.
The Responsibilities side believes the best way to complement law enforcement efforts is an effective, consistent, nationwide screening mechanism — in other words, background checks — that identifies criminals and the dangerously mentally ill and prevents them from purchasing guns, or at least makes it more difficult for guns to be obtained by them.
Statistics from the Colorado Governor's Office so far, regarding the background-check program that went into effect in 2012 following the movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colo., show promising results. In addition, a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine last spring — conducted by Boston Children's Hospital, based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence — shows that "states with the most firearm legislation have the lowest rate of firearm-associated deaths overall, as well as the lowest rates of firearm-associated suicides and homicides."
Background checks do work. They just need to be well-designed and well-implemented.
The Rights side says they don't want gun regulations that only affect the law-abiding, but laws set expectations for everyone — the law-abiding and non-law-abiding alike. That's how our legal system works. The law-abiding, even those who may not need such regulation, accept the inconvenience in order to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the dangerously mentally ill. It is their contribution to the overall crime-fighting effort. It is also one of the best ways to demonstrate responsibility in return for the rights they enjoy.
Even if all citizens were armed, even if all schools and other public places were protected by armed security personnel, it would still be imperative to make guns less accessible to those who use them irresponsibly.
An effective universal background check system, we believe, would improve this situation.
V. A call for greater responsibility
At this point, the Gun Rights side has everything they want: 2nd Amendment rights protected by the Supreme Court and concealed-carry laws in all 50 states. The only thing they don't see is a strong enough effort by law enforcement to crack down on gangs and criminals who use guns, and the Responsibilities side also calls for a stronger effort (with constitutional safeguards).
The Responsibilities side, on the other hand, has only seen erosion of the protections we value: Handgun bans overturned and more guns on the street, thanks to concealed-carry laws.
We are willing to support 2nd Amendment rights as long as the Rights side accepts the responsibilities that go with those rights. The logical place for that to occur is a system of universal background checks — presuming an effective one, with safeguards protecting gun owners' rights, can be devised. We believe it can.
Our impression, from what was said during our meetings, is that if a truly effective system — with safeguards — can be created, most members of the Rights side could live with it. But at this point they still don't believe such a system is possible and aren't willing to sign on.
The Responsibilities side has conceded the right to self-defense and gun ownership. We have conceded on the issue of assault weapons bans. We have stated that we oppose any effort by the government to take away the guns of law-abiding citizens. We have supported the call for stronger law enforcement efforts.
Now we ask the Rights side to accept a universal background check system in principle, with the stipulation that it must be sensitive to their concerns and protect their rights.
The Gun Responsibilities Subcommittee proposes five measures to improve the problem of easy access to guns in this country:
1) an effective, consistent, nationwide background check system for all firearm purchases and transfers through a federally licensed firearm dealer (no exceptions), plus a limit on the number of guns that can be purchased per month;
2) better storage of weapons in the home (and faster reporting if weapons are stolen);
3) improved, comprehensive gun-safety training for all gun owners;
4) limiting the manufacture, sale and possession of magazine capacities to 10 rounds (law enforcement exempted) in order to slow down mass murderers; and
5) stronger law enforcement efforts to crack down on gangs and intervene with those identified as dangerously mentally ill.
These are common-sense measures that, if properly implemented, would not infringe on the right to keep and bear arms but would improve the current problem of easy access to firearms by those who should not have them.
We invite all responsible, law-abiding gun owners to join us in this effort to make our society safer for the sake of the common good.
Unfortunately, the Rights side was not willing to consider universal background checks — even though that is now Illinois law. In fact, once Illinois passed the court-mandated concealed-carry law, the Rights members no longer seemed to have any clear sense of why we were meeting, even though David Schweig, one of their members, was the person who pushed for the formation of the committee in the first place.
We had hoped that having secured their rights and getting everything they wanted would make them more flexible, generous and collaborative, but that was not the case. In our final meeting, in fact, they were dismissive, calling the arguments presented in this report, "a joke." Their attitude seemed best articulated by Ray Simpson, who, immediately afterward, wrote in a One View, published in these pages, that gun owners "just want to be left alone."
Unfortunately, no citizen or group of citizens is an island. We live in a highly interdependent society and everyone needs to pitch in if we want to make that society safer. Their unwillingness to do so is disappointing.
Three members of the Rights side did indicate a willingness to consider the possibility of reforming the Illinois FOID card, which they admitted is a very weak system (and even if those weaknesses were corrected, it would not be effective because federal law does not require background checks for gun sales online and at gun shows nationwide. Someone from Illinois can drive an hour to Indiana to purchase guns).
To date, however, they have been unable to provide a specific proposal on how to reform the FOID card system. As a result, we concluded that our discussions have reached an end.
The members of the Responsibilities Subcommittee decided instead to publish our consensus statement — developed and refined over a period of many months — in the hope that it might advance the national conversation on this important subject.
Of course, it takes two to dialogue.
If the Gun Rights side of our committee wishes to submit a final report of their own, we would be happy to publish it.
We also invite readers to join in this ongoing conversation.
Members of the Responsibilities Subcommittee who contributed to this report are: John Barrett, Joyce Champelli, Ray Heise, Sandra Shimon, Paul Sakol, Judith Gaietto-Grace, Ken Trainor.
Members of the Rights Subcommittee, who did not sign on to this report are: David Schweig, John Erickson, David Gawne, Ray Simpson, Matt Udelson, Brian Slowiak, Lynn Totzke, Rosemary Juravic, Josie D'Avolio.