Last week, I stopped by a friend’s house, ate some pizza and talked about old times, and he showed me the latest acquisitions to his gun collection.
My buddy is a good guy, obeys the law and teaches gun safety.
But, folks like him—and every other lawful gun owner—are feeling the heat from the state of Illinois. Lawmakers are contemplating fingerprinting every legal gun owner in the state.
Nothing divides Illinoisans more than issues involving gun-owner rights.
Believe me; I’ve covered these political tussles in Springfield for more than 20 years.
And, frankly, it’s an issue that I find tiresome to write about because the debate always generates more heat than light.
Eventually one side says the blood of children is on the other’s hands. Then the other claims that their opponents want to tear up the Constitution.
It goes downhill from there.
The one thing that folks on both sides of the gun debate can agree on is that criminals and seriously mentally ill people shouldn’t be packing heat.
The different views on guns in Illinois are more often cultural and geographic than they are partisan.
I grew up on a farm near Galesburg, Ill., and hunted with my father and brother. It was a good time to talk and enjoy the outdoors and, occasionally, bring something home for supper.
I was also taught to have a reverent respect for the lethality of guns and how to handle firearms in the proper manner. However, I have friends who grew up in Chicago whose experiences with firearms are far different than mine are.
When I hear gunfire through my bedroom window, I wonder if rabbit or squirrel season has begun. They’d wonder if gang members are at it again.
As the parent of three young daughters, I can’t imagine what it’s like to live in a place where gun violence is a way of life.
According to the Congressional Research Service, there are more than 300 million guns in the United States. Other estimates put the number of guns at more than 400 million. If that is the case, this nation has more guns than people.
No matter what laws are passed, that number is unlikely to get smaller anytime soon.
In fact, every time a gun-control measure is proposed, gun sales go up.
Just so you know where I fit in this spectrum, I’m a passive gun owner. I find myself sitting in a deer blind once a year waiting to land that ever-elusive buck. I’ve yet to harvest one. (My wife would say it probably has something to do with me having my nose in a book the whole time that I’m supposed to be watching for deer.)
Regardless, I’m one of the people who would be required by Illinois Senate Bill 1966 to be fingerprinted when applying for or renewing a Firearms Owners Identification (FOID). In fact, all gun owners are the targets of the legislation.
Illinois already has some of the most restrictive gun laws. Despite this, some areas of Chicago remain a quagmire of gun violence.
In regard to the proposed law, I’m ambivalent. I spent more than $100 three years ago to be fingerprinted for a conceal-carry license. So, my prints are already on file.
But, many people would find the prospect of spending a significant sum of money just to continue to legally keep a gun they have long owned to be burdensome. I suspect an unintended consequence of the legislation would be that many gun owners would decline to renew their FOID cards yet still keep their guns.
This would turn many otherwise law-abiding citizens into potential felons. For a law to be effective, it needs widespread compliance.
For example, I don’t drink, but I can see the foolishness that was once the prohibition of alcohol.
Gun ownership isn’t just a pervasive custom like alcohol consumption; the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed that it is a constitutional right. That doesn’t mean restrictions can’t be put in place, but it does call for extra care on the part of legislators.
Guns are just a tool that can bring security or despair.
As a society, we need to focus on the underlying reasons for violence: mental illness, the lack of mentoring, particularly of boys and young men, and the need for swift and certain consequences for those who choose to do harm to others.
Editor’s note: Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse journalist and a freelance reporter. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.