By Ken Trainor
Meeting number three of the Gun Rights and Responsibilities Group on March 28 went much more smoothly, I'm happy to report. For most of the session, the members who emphasize firearm rights presented their side of the issue while those of us who emphasize responsibilities respectfully listened.
As you can see, I'm still dancing with the language. "Those who emphasize rights" is meant to convey that they do not completely dismiss the responsibilities that go with those rights, just as the other side doesn't completely dismiss the rights that come with responsibilities. The difference between the two sides is not either/or. It's a matter of emphasis.
Listening to people you don't entirely agree with (dancing again) is a valuable exercise. In fact, it's almost a relief. They already know we don't agree with a lot of what they're saying, but we're spared the moral imperative of defending, contradicting, correcting, rebutting — in other words, going into rhetorical combat. The goal is to understand the other side's position as much as your biases allow.
Here's what I "understand" based on what I "heard" (dancing, dancing):
First, everyone deserves a respectful hearing. Those arguing for gun rights consider their point of view valid and want to/need to share it. They don't want their views to be summarily dismissed. We start from common ground, therefore, because everyone feels that way.
This is about more than guns, which, I suppose, we all knew to some extent. It's largely about feeling safe in a dangerous world. Some see the world as quite dangerous and the "good guys" as quite vulnerable. Guns translate into self-defense — more to the point, the ability, and even the moral imperative, to defend themselves and loved ones in a dangerous world.
In that dangerous world, where much is beyond our control, possession of guns translates into a greater sense of personal power, and you really can't overestimate the importance of personal power. Everyone talks about "empowerment" these days. We just have different ways of pursuing it.
No one said all this directly. I'm reading plenty between the lines.
It's not that the self-defenders disrespect the police so much as they trust themselves more. It's a form of old-fashioned self-reliance, deeply ingrained in the American psyche and frontier mythology. No matter how quickly the police response time is (an average of 3 minutes, 34 seconds, according to one former Oak Park cop), it isn't quick enough if an intruder confronts them in their home.
They regard the U.S. Constitution and the Second Amendment with deep reverence. Keeping and bearing arms is an inalienable right, equal to, and possibly greater than, freedom of speech, worship, assembly and all the rest. They do not believe the wording is unclear and do not see it as open to conflicting interpretations.
They fear that, underlying all the talk about gun control, there may lurk a desire, even a determination, to deprive them of this sacred right. They fear that, ultimately, government may try to take away their guns and attempt to disarm the population.
They believe gun control measures have been a failure and doubt that more legislation would improve the situation. They do acknowledge that some people (criminals, children, the mentally ill) should not have access to firearms, but they doubt it's possible to come up with a foolproof way to deny them. Anyone who wants a gun badly enough will find a way to get one.
Gun possession is synonymous with freedom — from fear and from government tyranny. Keeping and bearing arms has come to mean taking freedom into their own hands — literally and figuratively.
They believe there will be less crime and that people will be safer if there are more guns because they serve as a deterrent. A criminal will think twice about committing a crime if he or she is worried that an intended victim might be armed. They have loads of statistics to back this up and an unlimited supply of anecdotal evidence to support their contentions.
They take pride in being trained and safety-conscious. They don't want to be branded as "nuts," and they see themselves as "the good guys." They do not believe gun rights should be unlimited or absolute, but they think gun regulation should be minimized.
They said a lot more than I have related here, and some of what I have related is my interpretation or "sense" of what they were saying, backed up by things I've read and heard elsewhere. This is my current "understanding," based partly on what they said. I'm sure my fellow group members will let me know whether I hit or missed the target (so to speak).
Tomorrow night, 6:30-8:30 p.m. in the Veterans Room of the Main Library (a change of venue and time), those who emphasize responsibilities will have their turn to present and receive a respectful hearing. Here's a preview of my portion:
"I know of no one who emphasizes responsibilities and supports regulation who wants to take away your guns, even if that were a realistic option, which it isn't. …"
If you're interested in hearing more, feel free to stop by and listen.