Occasionally, I venture into the 10th circle of hell — Wednesday Journal’s online comments — a realm beyond anything even Dante could imagine.

It is not for the faint of heart, especially when the subject is guns. The other day, I checked the foul dust in the wake of my recent column, “Newtown, newcountry?” [Viewpoints, Dec. 18] and was about to bail out, but the last comment (#39), by “Ray Simpson from Oak Park, Illinois,” caught my eye:

“Ken Trainor – let me see if I understand your offer. You will come back to the table if we forfeit our 2nd amendment rights, our Supreme Court victory, our newly acquired conceal carry rights, our reams of data and statistics supporting our position and anything else that you might perceive as ‘SCARY’ and you offer endless hand wringing scenarios and nothing else. Fooled once shame on you, fooled twice shame on me. You have stated here that you have no willingness to budge on anything – what are you offering? Why would we even consider reopening talks?”

Ray was a member of our recently concluded “Gun Rights and Responsibilities Committee,” which gives you some sense of what we were up against. But I wondered if, underneath the layers of hyperbole and distortion, there might actually be an honest question lurking, so, in the interest of the continuing gun rights vs. responsibilities discussion (though no longer “at the table”), here’s my response:

No, Ray. We’re not asking you to give up your gun rights. Quite the opposite, which you would know if you had read our final report [Viewpoints, Dec. 4] or if you were honest about what you read if you did. In fact, all along we were upfront about acknowledging and even supporting your gun rights. We also supported your call for greater law enforcement efforts against criminals, especially gangs. It’s all right there in the report you dismissed publicly several times as “drivel.” I’m assuming you didn’t really read it since a healthy portion of the report was devoted to your concerns and proposals, which you say we ignored.

If our report was “drivel,” then your position is drivel as well, since we included it. Therefore you must not have read the report. I suggest you do so. I think you’ll be surprised how fair and even-handed it is — certainly a lot more even-handed than your subsequent comments online and here in the Viewpoints section.

To repeat (because I don’t want you to miss it again), we acknowledge and support your right to own firearms for self-defense purposes (as well as target shooting and hunting). We also acknowledge that concealed-carry is the law of this state and every other state.

No one is trying to take away your guns or your rights. Just because you don’t believe us doesn’t mean we’re lying. Your disbelief is your problem, not ours.

We’re simply asking you — and all gun owners — to accept the responsibilities that go along with those rights. Specifically, we’re asking you to accept — in principle only, mind you — a universal system of background checks, consistent across the entire country, on all firearm purchases and transfers. No exceptions for gun shows or anything else. Everyone complies because it benefits everyone, aka “the common good,” by helping keep guns out of the wrong hands, something you claim to support. Accepting background checks (in principle) would be a good-faith demonstration that gun owners are sincere about actually doing their part to reduce the scourge of gun violence in this country.

It would show that we’re all in this together.

I know, I know, the devil is in the details. That’s why we’re only asking you to accept this in principle, with the stipulation that it must not be excessively burdensome to gun owners or violate their rights. See? We were listening.

Without background checks, we would get nothing out of our discussions and you would get everything you want. Not exactly fair. You don’t have to do anything other than fill out a very weak FOID card application every 10 years. Even your side admitted the system is a joke — and Illinois, as I understand it, is the only state that even does that much.

We’ve made lots of concessions (all listed in our report). Your side made none. Which side is being rigid? 

If you judged Ray Simpson entirely by his online comments, you would conclude he’s just another easily excited hothead whose only rhetorical device is exaggeration — not someone to be taken seriously. He does at least use his own name, which is more than can be said for the majority of the hotheads who pop up online every time this newspaper prints the word “gun.” 

It would be easy to write Ray off, except that he blew his cover. The online hothead was not the person who showed up at our meetings for 11 months. That Ray Simpson was soft-spoken, intelligent, and gave indications of being a reasonable human being. 

I don’t know which is the real Ray Simpson — maybe both — but I’m calling out Reasonable Ray, who knows full well that what we’ve been asking (not demanding) is modest (not radical). 

Come out from behind your protective thicket of stereotyping, misrepresentation and exaggeration and engage us in honest dialogue. Maybe you’re afraid your nameless buddies in the online echo chamber will rip you to shreds for “consorting with the enemy.” But we’re not the enemy and you know that because you spent 11 months getting to know us.

We treated you with respect, and I will continue to treat the Ray Simpson who showed up at those meetings with respect. It’s hard to respect the online version, however.

I’m calling on you to be a role model who can teach the rest of the hotheads how to dialogue. But first you may have to learn how to do so yourself. Take some tips from Jim Coughlin, one of the few online commenters who knows how to keep his cool.

Here’s a tip I learned the hard way over 29 years of writing newspaper columns: It doesn’t matter whether you’re right or wrong. The more you exaggerate, the less people will listen and the more they’ll lose respect for you.

So if there really is the germ of an honest question in your last post, I just gave you an honest answer. 

And I’m only doing it because I respect the Ray Simpson who showed up.

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