By Ihosvani Rodriguez
OAKLAND PARK - A group of South Florida gun rights advocates said they are in favor of universal background checks for all gun buyers and agreed there is enough common ground between all sides of the gun control debate to establish some new reforms.
The group of nine men, led by retired South Florida businessman and lifetime National Rifle Association member Jim Cummings, met with Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz behind closed doors on Wednesday in Oakland Park to discuss "common sense ways" aimed at curbing gun violence.
Wednesday's meeting was the second gun-control discussion Wasserman Schultz has conducted in South Florida since the Dec. 15 massacre in Newtown, Conn. The congresswoman met with politicians and law enforcement officials in similar discussions earlier this month, and plans to meet with gun violence victims next.
The discussion on Wednesday coincided with hearings held in Washington D.C this week by the Senate Judiciary Committee on the issue of gun control. Wasserman Schultz said that listening from all sides of the debate, especially from staunch Second Amendment supporters, will be the only way to achieve actual reforms.
"We need to do a lot more listening than we do chattering on how to solve these problems, Wasserman Schultz said after the hourlong meeting.
On Wednesday in Washington, Wasserman Schultz's personal friend and former congresswoman Gabby Giffords made an emotional plea for Congress to take some action when it comes to gun reforms.
Giffords implored lawmakers to "be bold, be courageous" as she opened testimony at the first congressional hearing on gun violence since the Newton massacre in which a gunman shot dead 20 children and six adults at an elementary school.
"The message she delivered today carried more weight, not only because she was obviously a victim of gun violence, but also because she's speaking from the perspective from a strong supporter of the Second Amendment," the congresswoman said.
President Barack Obama and other Democrats have asked Congress to pass the largest package of gun restrictions in decades. But their efforts are being met by strong opposition from the leadership of the NRA.
The group's CEO Wayne LaPierre is opposing the universal background checks.
Some of the gun rights advocates who met with Wasserman Schultz on Wednesday distanced themselves from LaPierre's view.
"I think just because Wayne LaPierre gets up and makes a statement that we have 4.5 million members and here is our position doesn't mean it's everyone's position," said Cummings, an avid hunter who owns more than 150 guns. "It is not the position of most of us here, and most of us are lifetime NRA members. We don't think he's right."
Cummings and others said they agreed with the President on funding more research to root out the cause of gun violence and expanding access to mental health services. The group said moving forward on the common ground now will eventually lead to longer-term solutions.
"There is no easy, quick solution to the problem of violence in this country. We all agree to this," said NRA member Mike Katz. "We need to have balanced measures and steps that in the short term will give us hope that we could come to a long-term solution."