By Dan Haley
Maybe it's clearer in retrospect. Maybe it's mostly clear to me, and others will disagree. But back in 1984 when Oak Park passed its ban on handguns — passed it by a margin but not by a landslide — it was a symbolic action. It was a hope-filled action that came with the expectation that towns and cities across the state and the nation would follow suit, that strong national gun control initiatives would take hold.
Oak Park was going to be a harbinger, not an isolated town on the edge of a tough city with too many guns. Not many people thought Oak Park's handgun ban was the magic bubble that would protect our borders from all gun violence.
That was then. Today we need to start any conversation about guns and their regulation by stipulating that, with the political makeup of the current Supreme Court, the Second Amendment is in political ascendancy. It is just a fact. And so more efforts in the current situation to run straight up against the court, as Oak Park and Chicago recently attempted, are going to fail, are going to divide, and are going to result in enormous legal costs.
That's OK. The 1980s were a hopeful time for actual gun control. This era isn't. But the need to try to find some place in from the margins of the NRA's intimidation and the "to the ramparts" rhetoric of the gun control left is more important than ever. And again, Oak Park has the opportunity to be a leader in this moment. If we take it.
Can we have a discussion where we focus on the possible? Most reasonable people agree there are too many illegal guns on our streets, too many knuckleheads shooting wildly at each other, too many small kids getting injured and killed.
So like the rapidly expanding national organization, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, let's start the discussion by saying the Second Amendment is what it is. But how do we stop guns from coming illegally into the country? How do finally make the current laws on background checks actually work? How do we shut down the illegal trafficking in guns that takes place every day?
Recently Oak Park's public health board, at the direction of the village board, held a hearing on guns and solicited citizen input on what options remain possible locally to put reasonable regulations on the legal possession of a handgun.
It did not seem like the most productive format for a genuine discussion. Now, as he has for a long time, local gun rights advocate David Schweig is asking the village board to create an ad hoc commission — Lord knows Oak Park understands that concept — to talk about guns and regulation.
I've known David for decades, all through the local gun debates. And when we go to the margins, we vehemently disagree. But when we talk in the middle, we find there are things to discuss that might have some impact on lessening gun violence without infringing on the rights — as currently defined by this court — of gun owners.
David wants six local citizens who support gun rights and six local citizens who seek strong gun control to sit down over months and see what common ground there might be. He has made the case for this twice in our Viewpoints section in the past couple of months. Now Village President David Pope is suggesting he may be open to the idea.
It can't hurt. It might help. It will give Oak Park a fresh chance to find out if our much touted tolerance for diverse views is more than a PR aura. And, just like in 1983, it will give Oak Park the opportunity to play, in a small way, a leadership role on a life-and-death issue.