I want to respond to a viewpoint published in the Aug. 13 issue of Wednesday Journal, titled “Guns for self-defense or complete gun bans?”

This viewpoint encourages Oak Park voters to vote “No” on Nov. 4 on the referendum in support of universal background checks for all gun purchases and other legal gun transfers. The only argument made in the viewpoint for the encouragement to vote “No” is a statement that “legal gun transfers between law abiding citizens (universal background checks, no exception) [are] … ineffective.”

I want to encourage Oak Park voters to vote “Yes”! My arguments are: 

1) Over 90% of all Americans are in favor of universal background checks (April 12, 2013 Washington Post-ABC poll and a July 3, 2014 Quinnipiac poll); even 74% of NRA members and 85% of people in households of NRA members were in favor of this in the Washington Post-ABC poll. 

2) Universal background checks are currently not in place for at least 40% of all gun transfers, which makes it impossible to conclude anything about their (in)effectiveness. Of note, adequate research on the effectiveness of universal background checks and other gun-related issues has been stifled by the NRA, which has lobbied Congress to prohibit federal funding for such research. Indeed, Congress has not been active in pursuing legislation requiring universal background checks and other gun-related matters (see: http://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R42987.pdf). 

A “Yes” vote on the non-binding referendum will also give a solid signal that Oak Parkers are very unhappy about what has happened to gun ownership in Illinois and particularly in Oak Park and Chicago. 

Most of the Aug. 13 viewpoint is devoted to aspects of gun ownership and concealed carry that are not pertinent to the issue of background checks, but appear to be in support of the use of guns for self-defense. When reading this, I became worried, and a front-page article in the Saturday, Aug. 23 issue of the New York Times lays out many of the reasons why I became concerned. (The NY Times article can be accessed at: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/23/us/ferguson-mo-key-factor-in-police-shootings-reasonable-fear.html?action=click&contentCollection=U.S.&module=RelatedCoverage®ion=Marginalia&pgtype=article.) It discusses in detail the complex issues that police officers are faced with when having to decide whether or not to draw their guns, whether or not to shoot, and how and when to do so, often in very confusing circumstances (poor lighting, people moving fast, presence of bystanders, unclear situations, etc.). 

The NY Times article made me look up on the Illinois State Police website the recommended content of the 16 hours of required training one needs to take in Illinois in order to qualify for a concealed-carry permit. Nowhere did I find language requiring training in how to deal with the complex and confusing circumstances that are typically associated with real-life situations in which people with concealed-carry guns may have or want to decide to use their weapon. 

Police officers are trained in these matters and are required to go for re-training at regular intervals, as often as every three months. However, Illinois concealed-carry permit holders are not required to take such training; they only have to shoot 10 rounds at a stationary target at distances of 5, 7, and 10 yards and be instructed about what the Illinois Criminal Code stipulates about the use of force that can result in death or great bodily harm, which is what shooting a gun does. This training has to be repeated only once every five years and only for three hours. 

Knowing that even trained police officers make mistakes in real-life situations, I do not feel safe knowing that there may be untrained people carrying concealed guns around where I go on the streets of Oak Park. A gun-wielding and -firing action by such an untrained and inexperienced individual, no matter how well-intended or legally justified, in a situation that he/she perceives as reasonably threatening, may easily go awry. Thus, I do not understand why people can obtain permits to carry concealed (or openly carry) guns, except perhaps in rural areas where a 911 call does not elicit a quick response.

But to come back on the first issue I have raised, I urge all fellow Oak Park voters to vote “Yes” on the universal background check referendum on Nov. 4.

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