I'd like to take this opportunity to join your conversation about guns. In 1984 our village board passed a law banning the sale and possession of guns in Oak Park. At that time, the key concern was "Saturday night specials," popular handguns used in urban neighborhoods and a big problem in Chicago. That positive vote was reaffirmed by a majority of citizens in a referendum held in 1985 by a subsequent board, and that held until the Supreme Court decided to overturn it a couple of years ago. Our ordinance was one of which I was extremely proud, and the action of the court was one of its blackest, in my opinion.
It was not an easy vote in 1984. People came to my office during open hours when we were considering the issue, and a few came to my home, one young man at 11:15 at night clutching his 5-year-old son's hand. All of them said they had to have a gun "to protect their family." An elderly man who walked with difficulty was most anxious about protecting his wife.
I listened to them carefully and pointed out, among other things, how unlikely it would be that they could get to their gun if and when an intruder should enter their house or apartment. If they went searching for their gun (upstairs in the bedroom, at the other end of the apartment, or in the kitchen), by the time they got to it, it would either be too late or they would likely be flustered, even panicky, and the chance for a successful encounter would be greater for the intruder than the owner.
Some time ago, I drove for a teenager who had been shot by her 4-year-old cousin. Doctors were trying to save her leg. Why was there a gun in the house in the first place? Why was it available to the little child? Why wasn't it locked? And if it was locked, how could the child unlock it so easily? The mother of the recent Newtown murderer would certainly have trouble justifying the guns she kept in her house — if she were still alive.
Unfortunately the rapid proliferation of these weapons — meant for war — has been swift and devastating. Where our concern in the 1980s was handguns, "Saturday night specials," today aka-47s, assault rifles, military weapons, are reported in school and church and mall massacres. But the gun lobby reminds us: "Guns don't kill people, people do."
It is not my intent to present hard evidence citing the need for gun regulation. That kind of statement brings forth all sorts of statistical backlash and, like the "guns don't kill people" response, throws the discussion off course and cleverly puts one on the defensive.
This isn't a statistical war; it's a societal war. It doesn't need any more numbers to make its case. We see those every day in the news.
My request is that readers wait before they solidify their decision about guns and possible legislation. The fear element constantly hyped by the gun industry leads people to feel vulnerable and jump to what seems to be an obvious solution, without weighing unintended consequences.
The subject is clearly a hot issue. For those who live in rural areas and have had guns "since the land was settled" the romance of that image utterly obscures what's at stake today. There are very young children who are getting in line-of-fire gun fights, and teenagers who are being killed by other kids in suburbs as well as cities.
Contrary to the Health Department's decision that this issue is not timely, it is exactly the right time to take it up — when it's fresh in our minds. This isn't a time to be concerned about legal battles; the law isn't in place just for non-confrontational issues. It develops as people with wisdom and courage and a sense of the "common good" come together to discuss problems of their society, and then have the gumption to approve legislation or regulation to clarify and resolve the issue — in this case to remove weapons never meant for casual use from the streets and homes and gathering places of our general public.
The anguish of parents and communities whose children are gone, and the courage of several elected officials across the nation, including governors and mayors who have decided to take on the issue, is to be applauded. With his appointment of Vice President Biden, President Obama himself has spoken openly and with determination about his intent to bring about regulation of firearms.
I urge zealous gun supporters to leave the NRA hyperbole behind and work with the rest of us to put together reasonable legislation that people can agree on whose aim is the well-being of our society.
Please do speak up, readers. This subject is about your own safety and your child's and your neighbor's.
Sara G. Bode, Oak Park village president, 1981-85, lives in Oak Park and Sawyer, Mich.
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