At a time when the American people are more noisily divided that ever before on a polarizing array of issues and causes, none of those issues is more divisive — or crying more for solutions — than the question of guns.
Every one of us, gun owners and control advocates alike, is horrified by the toll of gun violence in America, whether it’s mass shootings in churches and concert halls or the mindless, one-on-one violence in our neighborhoods.
As a nation, these tragedies have united us in shock and mourning, yet the first talk of solutions tears us apart. No one among us is willing to put aside our rock-ribbed, loaded position on guns in order to sit down and find the common ground for solutions.
But such things can happen. I know that from past experience with 18 years in Congress and now in state government. Over those years, I’ve seen a number of seemingly unsolvable questions resolved by men and women of good will who were committed to respectfully hearing both sides of the debate. They admitted their differences, but focused instead on discovering those more narrow areas where both sides agreed. Narrow areas soon widened into common ground, and common ground became bridges that blossomed into workable and enduring solutions.
I saw that happen in Washington, D.C., when, in 1996, we worked our way through the challenge of welfare reform and, in 1997, when we finally balanced the federal budget. Talk about divisive! Debating welfare reform in Congress, we had to sort through a mix of strong views on both sides, including those who felt it was a heartless act that would only serve to increase poverty. And when we balanced the budget, many felt that it couldn’t be done, wouldn’t be done or shouldn’t be done. But in both cases, the common ground prevailed.
More recently in Ohio, we got to work to strengthen community and police relations in the wake of some tragic and potentially explosive incidents, including the fatal shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice. We brought together a diverse group of Ohioans from law enforcement, community leaders and our neighborhoods — people with very different, but sincerely held opinions. Through frank and respectful discussion, they made recommendations for ways we could strengthen the bond between our communities and the police who serve them. It was not a time for anyone to play politics if we were to get it right.
Our effort was led by former state Sen. Nina Turner — a leading voice in the African-American community and Democratic Party whose son is a police officer — and John Born, the director of our state Department of Public Safety.
This group held public meetings across the state to listen to people’s concerns, and actively looked for ways that Ohio could start driving real cultural change. The result was unanimous agreement on a wide range of new ideas that have been put into action in our state.
Our present dilemma with guns calls for a similar approach. That means bringing together reasonable people on both sides of the issue — and those in between — to sit down and find that perhaps elusive common ground that will finally provide a pathway to solutions. It means retaining our respect for Second Amendment rights while finding reasonable, common-sense and constitutional ways to reduce the terrible toll of violence.
Kasichs administration has spent months laying the groundwork for the effort. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)
This column also appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Provided by Team Kasich.