Former U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who served Illinois’ 11th Congressional District and later the 16th from 2011 to early this year, is one of the Republican Party’s most significant truth tellers. Kinzinger is now a political commentator. In his blistering farewell address to Congress in December, Kinzinger said: “Where Republicans once believed that limited government meant lower taxes and more autonomy, today, limited government means inciting violence against government officials.”
On Monday night, Kinzinger spoke in Chicago at a meeting organized by The Joyce Foundation. In a session moderated by a former Tribune reporter, White House official and Democratic strategist, David Axelrod, the former congressman spoke alongside Tim Heaphy, the chief counsel and lead investigator for the Jan. 6 House committee.
This was a left-leaning audience, receptive to sharp criticism of the Republican right and far friendlier to Kinzinger than many members of his own party. But something Kinzinger said at the Arts Club caught our attention after the conversation turned to recent school shootings.
“Second Amendment people,” Kinzinger said, “should be on the front line of gun control.”
In essence, Kinzinger was saying, the people who are interested in guns, and most likely to own them, actually know far more about what works and what does not in the matter of gun control than those who have no such knowledge. And as experts on guns, he said, they are thus morally obligated to use that expertise to solve what is clearly a crisis, given all the recent examples of emotionally troubled people acquiring powerful weaponry and using them to take innocent lives, often of children.
Many of them already know this, he implied, at least deep down, and are possibly just waiting to be asked in the right way.
Therefore, rather than seeing fervent supporters of the Second Amendment as the opposition to be defeated, he suggested, those who want to see sensible regulations on gun ownership, such as background checks, age restrictions and red flag laws, should see “Second Amendment people” as potential experts and allies. They know guns better than those who merely despise them.
Kinzinger was engaged in realpolitik here, noting that the constitutional protection for personal ownership of guns is unlikely to go away in our lifetimes. Better, then, to find common ground when it comes to the kinds of reform for which we’ve advocated here often.
Kinzinger is not the only person who has suggested that Americans try harder to find common ground in the interests of common-sense solutions. At a recent meeting in Austin, Texas, organized by the American Press Institute, a young nonprofit called The Flip Side spoke of its mission “to help bridge the gap between liberals and conservatives,” telling assembled opinion journalists from major newspapers that the use of less partisan language and tonality has proved to be a far more effective generator of meaningful common-sense change than rhetorical demonization.
We could not agree more. And gun control is not the only issue to which that applies, but it’s surely the biggest emergency.