NY Times Op-Ed: Bipartisan Hunting Buddies

Jan 30, 2013 Issues: Work for Michigan

WE are as different as North and South. One of us, John Dingell, is a liberal Michigan Democrat and the other, Jim Baker, is a conservative Texas Republican. We met during the Reagan administration and have often found ourselves on opposite sides of political battles. We have the bruises to show for them.

We do, however, share some beliefs. One is a strong love of guns and the outdoors and, just as important, a respect for both. Since we were boys, some of our best times have come with rifles or shotguns in our hands, especially when hunting with our fathers. Jim hunted ducks in the wetlands of southeast Texas and elk in the Rocky Mountains. John hunted small game along the banks of the Detroit River and Lake Erie. As adults, we have hunted together, using our common bond to bridge our differences.

We’re also united by outrage over the rampage killings in an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., and other despicable episodes of gun violence. At the same time, we believe the Second Amendment provides Americans with an important freedom that makes our country special.

But the harsh truth is that too many Americans are dying from gun-related shootings — more than 30,000 each year and more than one million since 1960. Gun violence now rivals traffic accidents as the leading cause of death by injury in the United States. Quite simply, gun violence threatens to overwhelm us.

Americans are grappling for strategies to make sure that the horror that occurred in Newtown isn’t repeated. The White House has made suggestions, and many governors have offered theirs. The National Rifle Association has spelled out its proposals.

With the Senate Judiciary Committee scheduled today to hold the first congressional hearings on gun violence since the Newtown tragedy, we offer four general guidelines for a national dialogue on sensible solutions to this deadly malady.

First, any legislation that is suggested should be broad-gauged. There is no one single cause of gun violence and no single solution. That will mean determining if there is any reason for weapons to have magazines that hold 30 rounds or more. It will mean assessing whether armor-piercing bullets — opposed by police chiefs around the country — should be legal. And it will mean considering strengthening background checks.

Gun advocates will say that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. And of course we must examine the long-term effects on our children of violent movies, television shows and video games. We must address gaps in our mental health system that leave potential killers unidentified and untreated, and this will require more financial resources. And we must strive to make our schools and public gathering places safer, perhaps through federal financing so local police forces can hire additional officers, as was done when the 1994 assault weapons ban was passed.

Second, any approach demands bipartisan support. This is not important just because of our divided government. Absent wide support, any laws passed now might well be rescinded once the partisan balance of power inevitably shifts. A broad-based approach could also help guarantee that any legislation would survive a constitutional challenge. That means that both gun-rights activists and the entertainment industry will have to moderate their positions.

Third, common sense should prevail. We must get away from a mind-set that has owners of firearms worried that “they are going to take our guns away.” The Second Amendment guarantees that won’t happen. Our nation has regulated various kinds of arms throughout history, and done so without violating the Second Amendment. We have, for example, restricted ownership of fully automatic weapons and grenade launchers.

Finally, each of us should look into our own heart to consider what type of nation we want to be. From members of the National Rifle Association to the most passionate gun-control advocates, no one wants to live in a country where innocent children are killed indiscriminately. This is a problem for all Americans — not just the government — and we all must be part of the solution.

That’s why we think parents should spend less time leaving their children alone playing shoot-’em-up video games and more time with them doing activities they both enjoy. This includes taking children into the country to hunt and to gain, as we did as boys, a love for the abundance and beauty of nature as well as a respect for the responsible and legitimate use of guns.

James A. Baker III was secretary of the Treasury from 1985 to 1988 and secretary of state from 1989 to 1992. Representative John D. Dingell, Democrat of Michigan, is the dean of the House and currently the longest-serving member of Congress.