Group with differing views reaches consensus on gun issues

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EDITOR'S NOTE: This opinion piece is a bit different from anything we have published before. We found it intriguing that the four citizen authors of differing ideologies met numerous times to discuss and eventually agree upon a "middle ground" stance on the hot-button issue of gun violence. We have long believed that civil discourse among those with divergent views is not only possible, but necessary, in finding solutions for social issues. This article is evidence that such discussion and action have good potential for success.

For our democracy to function effectively, Americans with different points of view must be able to talk to one another respectfully and work through their different perspectives in order to reach agreement on public policies.

Concerned about the widespread divisiveness and conflict in our country today and the many stalemates we face on important public issues, two of us with left of center views (Richard and Roger) invited fellow citizens with right of center views (Rick and John) to join us in conversations on critical issues.

Our hope was that if we could succeed in reaching agreement on thorny issues, others might be encouraged to join our group and we could begin to serve as a model in our area for the type of change needed in our political system at all levels.

We opted at the start to examine gun-associated deaths, particularly homicides and suicides because they account for the largest number of such deaths. We agreed that all four of us, including our two gun owners, must agree on every gun-related policy idea or we would not include it in this document.

We read widely about deaths associated with guns to better understand the nature of the problem. We learned from research what works to reduce the number of deaths, and we sought solutions that could have general public and political support from both parties.

We began with a guiding premise that laws or regulations that limit certain individual behaviors are unquestionably necessary, can be very reasonable, and can be easily embraced by most citizens. Examples include requirements for a license to drive a car, to practice as a doctor or beautician, and to sell liquor or cigarettes. Restrictions on guns could fall into the same category of publicly supported limits because we readily understand and accept them as serving our common good.

Our investigation on guns revealed that background checks alone are unlikely to reduce gun-associated deaths because our current system of conducting checks is riddled with loopholes, non-connectivity of databases and inconsistent reporting of crime convictions.

Evidence does show that when background checks are combined with a requirement for gun buyers to obtain a permit or license, gun-related homicides and suicides are reduced. That's because these measures give officials more time to look at all record sources.

We support this combined background checks plus licensing approach.

Second, we agree that persons who have a documented history of physical violence against women or others or have made threatening or inflammatory public commentary should also be part of any "red flag" database, with information coming from the judiciary, police, or social media platforms.

This would not restrict gun ownership among those who can qualify to purchase the guns, and is a proven way to help reduce gun-associated deaths.

Third, we agree not to restrict the purchase of semi-automatic guns but to make it illegal to sell or possess high capacity pistol and rifle magazines that are designed to hold more than 10 rounds. These magazines are designed to inflict mass carnage; they are not for recreation or protection.

Our philosophy has been to identify policies that are reasonable and respectful of the individual rights of all Americans and can be endorsed by people with different political views.

The next topic to be tackled is still under consideration and we would like to recruit new members to the dialogue group. If you can have an open mind, are willing to learn regardless of your political views or party, and would like to join or learn more about our group, please contact Richard Hammes at rhammes@comcast.net.

John Agar, Rick Dean and Richard Hammes are residents of Hilton Head Island; Roger Bernier lives in Bluffton.

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