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By Ken Trainor
Last Thursday night, the Gun Rights vs. Regulation Dialogue Experiment held its first meeting at Dole branch library.
That's not the group's official name. They don't have one yet. I'm just throwing it out there for consideration. Though it's a little long, and therefore cumbersome, it seems to capture the challenge they're facing.
If you haven't been following our back-and-forth over the last six months or so, this is the ad hoc citizens advisory committee that Dave Schweig, a longtime gun rights advocate in Oak Park, has been calling for ever since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned our village's handgun ban in June of 2010.
Dave says his name, in German, more or less means "shut up," and on an issue as polarizing as this one, both sides will need to know when to "shut up and listen" or this effort won't go anywhere worthwhile.
So we could call it the "Schweig Group." What's the German word for "listen"?
To achieve something as elusive as dialogue, three things are required:
- As strongly as you feel about a certain topic, you must admit that you don't have all the answers.
- You have to recognize that the opposing side, which also doesn't have all the answers, nonetheless has a point of view worth listening to.
- You have to be willing to listen to it, even if you strongly disagree with it.
In other words, all parties must enter the discussion with some measure of humility and respect. Otherwise it doesn't work. I confess I don't have much respect for the leadership of the NRA, but I have respect for the strong feelings and opinions of the members of the NRA, and I also freely admit that I don't have all the answers.
Ten concerned citizens attended the first meeting last Thursday night, 11 if you count me. I endorsed Dave's good-faith effort to air this issue in public forums but haven't figured out whether to be part of the group or simply a very interested bystander (with a clearly stated pro-regulation point of view) who reports his impressions.Six of the attendees were pro-rights and four were pro-regulation. That needs to be evened up.
The preliminary goal was to eventually develop a set of recommendations to the Oak Park village board (which they haven't asked for) to consider whenever they formulate a new firearms ordinance that reflects the current realities and that can pass muster in the courts.
That's an ambitious goal, and if consensus is reached, the pro-gun rights side will have to accept some gun regulation, and the pro-regulation side will have to acknowledge gun rights. If one or the other fails to occur, they'll never reach the recommendations stage.
A couple of attendees last week proposed a simpler, more immediate goal: Seeing if it's even possible for pro-rights and pro-regulation advocates to listen respectfully to one another and work together. That might well be an unprecedented achievement and it would be so very Oak Park.
In their favor, no one is going in with any illusions. The two sides do not agree and consensus will not be easy. But if they can respect the sincerity of the other side's views and actually listen to them, who knows what might be possible.
It's surprising what human beings are capable of when they're treated with respect. It's the fear — or the feeling — of not being listened to, I've found, that makes most of us defensive and ornery and turns discussions into arguments.
In my experience, structure helps. One session could be devoted to letting the pro-rights participants explain their point of view and how they came to it. The pro-regulation folks would listen without interruption. When they finished, the listeners would be allowed to ask clarifying questions only and talk a little about what they learned, but no rebuttals would be allowed, no attempt to change minds, no prosecutorial effort to back people into a corner or trip them up, nothing confrontational, nothing that threatens or intimidates or ridicules or judges.
In the next session, the roles would be reversed. Finally, in the third session, having gotten to know one another and having established a base camp of trust, they could start heading toward the more ambitious summit — the process of developing recommendations.
My first impression is that those who attended last Thursday are decent, sincere, respectful people. I'd like to hear more about why guns and gun rights are so important to 2nd Amendment supporters. I think it would be worthwhile to listen without feeling the pressure of having to "defend" my side of the issue.
More people may turn out to observe — or even participate — as we go along. If you're interested, the next meeting is at Dole on Thursday, March 7 at 7:30 p.m. For more information, call Dave Schweig at 708-383-3850 or 773-491-1179.
We'll see where it goes. Maybe nowhere.
But maybe somewhere.