The midterm election is less than two months away and for many of us it cannot come soon enough. So many important and fundamental issues hang in the balance. The challenge will be to not lose sight of any of these issues while remaining fully engaged in doing all we can to overcome the present challenges to our Democracy and to the Rule of Law.
The November midterm election will present an opportunity here in Oak Park to address a critical element of one of these important issues. The ballot will contain an advisory referendum question asking voters if they would support legislation requiring the safe storage of firearms within homes.
A citizens group, Gun Responsibility Advocates (GRA), initiated this referendum question. The GRA strongly believes that with rights come responsibilities. I am proud to call myself a member. We respect the Second Amendment Rights of law-abiding citizens to own and possess firearms, but we also understand that the ownership and possession of firearms requires reasonable regulation. On behalf of the GRA, I urge you to vote “Yes” in November in support of Safe Gun Storage legislation. This type of legislative action is not only reasonable, it is a critical component of any effective comprehensive plan to stem the tide of gun violence in the United States
The most important part of any comprehensive plan to reduce gun violence in our nation is taking whatever reasonable actions we can to reduce the access of criminals, the significantly mentally and emotionally disabled, and minors to firearms. The two most significant ways in which these people obtain access to firearms is purchasing them from gun dealers and taking them from homes — in the case of criminals, stealing them from homes, in the case of significantly mentally or emotionally disabled persons and minors, having access to firearms in the homes where they reside.
There are three pieces of legislation, one at the federal level and two, most likely at the state level, which if enacted into law, would significantly reduce access of these three categories of people to firearms, thereby significantly impacting all aspects of the gun violence problem in the U.S. It would not be an overstatement to say that these three pieces of legislation would form the core of any comprehensive plan to significantly reduce gun violence in this country.
The most significant of these is federal Universal Background Check legislation and the second is its necessary state counterpart, Gun Dealers Licensing legislation. They represent two sides of the same coin. To be truly effective, one cannot operate without the other. The only way a prohibition of the sale of firearms to these three categories of people can be effective is to have it apply on a nationwide basis. Likewise, to make the national legislation enforceable, there must be complementary state legislation requiring gun dealers to keep detailed records of each gun sale transaction, which would be available for inspection.
Five years ago, just months after Sandy Hook, 53 U.S. senators voted to adopt Universal Background Check legislation. The measure failed because Senate filibuster rules required 60 votes. That significant piece of legislation has languished since that time in the face of NRA-inspired Republican opposition and in spite of the fact that more than 80% of the voting public and more than 60% of NRA members favor the adoption of Universal Background checks. None of this is easy and this kind of change is always more of a marathon than a sprint. Special interests with deep pockets like the NRA can stave off the will of the people for a while, but with perseverance, history has consistently shown that the will of the people will prevail. The cancer that is gun violence will continue to rear its ugly head, as it tragically did only seven months ago in Parkland, Florida, and in too many other places along the way to count.
Four years ago, 92.7% of Oak Park voters voted “Yes” on an advisory referendum question asking them if they favored federal Universal Background Check legislation. Over 85% of Cook County voters voted the same way on a similar question in the same election. Since that time, the Board of Trustees of the villages of Oak Park and River Forest have adopted Resolutions urging all of their state and federal legislators to do all within their power to see that Universal Background Check legislation is enacted.
In the spring of this year, a historic Gun Dealers Licensing Act, sponsored by Oak Park state Senator Don Harmon, was passed in a bipartisan effort in the Illinois Senate and House only to be vetoed by Gov. Rauner.
Sen. Harmon responded with an amended bill that responded to minor concerns raised by the Governor and some legislators, but which remained true to the intended purpose of the original bill. This bill (SB0337) also passed the Senate and appears to have been passed, with amendment, in the House and sent back to the Senate where it currently resides. It may not come to fruition, but we could be ever so close to having a major part of a rational and effective comprehensive plan to curb the epidemic of gun violence in place.
This brings us to what must be the third critical part of any effective comprehensive plan to curb gun violence — safe gun storage. You may be surprised to learn that not much has been done at the local, state or federal level to address the issue of safe gun storage in the home. In fact, there really hasn’t been much discussion about it either.
Safe gun storage legislation not only can play a significant role in keeping firearms out of the hands of criminals, the significantly mentally and emotionally disabled, and minors, but it also can play a significant role in reducing gun-related suicides, the accidental death of children, and deaths related to domestic violence. If regulations can be put in place that effectively limit access to firearms in the home to the individuals who actually own them, not only will there be a greatly reduced opportunity for thieves to steal firearms, there will also be greatly reduced opportunities for emotionally or mentally unstable members of the household to obtain access to such firearms to do harm to themselves or others. If firearms are properly stored and secured, the many tragedies that occur every year as a result of children playing with firearms can also be averted.
It is time to heighten public awareness of the need for safe gun storage as another critical part of the comprehensive plan to reduce access to guns by criminals, those with significant mental and emotional disabilities, and minors. The safe gun storage advisory referendum question you will find on the Nov. 6 ballot will get that public discussion started. Please vote “Yes” for this common-sense proposal to save lives by requiring the safe storage of firearms.
Ray Heise is the retired village attorney of Oak Park.