In the debate about guns, as in so many others, neither side is willing to acknowledge the salient points and reasonable objections of their ideological opponent. Pro-gun enthusiasts believe that gun regulation is a fundamental violation of the right to self-defense and simply another case of government intrusion. Those who want more gun regulation want to prevent guns from getting into schools and the hands of criminals.

However, neither side can nor should offer the answer up as an all or nothing proposition. Simply waving the banner of the Second Amendment every time guns are regulated is as much a fallacy as thinking we would be without crime if everyone were required to seek a permit anytime they wanted to touch a firearm. Unfortunately, the latter example is hyperbole whereas the former happens all too frequently.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) and the Right have waged an extremely effective war for the Second Amendment in the last few decades by working through state legislatures and getting their base excited about the issue. Even former President Bill Clinton recently said that the midterm elections coming up in 2010 won't be as bad as they were in 1994 (when the Democrats lost control of the House for the first time since 1954) because "the Democrats haven't taken on the gun lobby like I did."

Yet, this grassroots effort has polarized the debate beyond reason. While the Left can't be let off the hook for pushing anti-gun attitudes rather than anti-guns-for criminals attitudes, the Right bears most of the responsibility on this issue today. Conservative politicians have turned gun rights into a fundamental tenant of the Republican Party by pretending as though it's impossible to go out and buy a gun anymore. Republicans leave no room to acknowledge the lethal power of guns and the need to remain always vigilant in keeping weapons out of the hands of criminals.

One issue that particularly brings this clash into focus is the "gun show loophole." When purchasing a gun from a licensed dealer, dealers are required to perform a background check through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System to ensure that the person purchasing a gun is in compliance with State and Federal laws. (Various kinds of criminal or mental health backgrounds, that vary from state to state, make it illegal to purchase a gun.)

However at gun shows, a whole smorgasbord of people show up to buy, sell and appreciate guns. Some of those selling guns have licenses. Other don't, namely the individuals that are interested in selling some of the guns from their own private collection. State and federal statutes that prevent criminals from getting a gun do not apply to these sales because there is no required means of enforcement. Any attempts to close this loophole gets called out as anti-Second Amendment, even though it allows an unregulated stream of guns to flow into the hands of violent felons.

So why not require that anyone who wants to own a gun pass a fairly basic (and quick) background check and receive a certificate which says as much? That idea is already built into law in some ways since anyone purchasing a gun from a licensed dealer has to pass a background check. Licensed gun dealers would be able to complete background checks at a minor inconvenience for unlicensed dealers and those interested in owning a gun would only have to go through a small, yet practical criminal background check.

In fact, this very idea was presented by State Representative Anna Blodgett to the Maine House of Representatives in April of this year. The NRA's Web site hailed the bill as an "attack" on the private transfer of firearms. Any Second Amendment defender would construe my suggestion as arduous and an infringement of rights since it would mandate permits for anyone who wants to own a gun. But if not that, then what else can we do to ensure the wrong people aren't getting deadly weapons?

The Republican Party needs to spend some time brainstorming ways to keep guns away from criminals. Carefully designed gun legislation could make it harder for dangerous individuals to attain guns, without subjecting law-abiding citizens to strings of permits, licenses and regulations. Any conservative-initiated legislation would be sensitive to not over regulating guns while taking real, effective steps to reduce crime.

Last week, columnist Steve Robinson lamented about "the ever encroaching threat of gun control ("If you want my guns, you'll have to take my bullets first," September 25). In it, he argued that the mantra of the NRA, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people," made a lot of sense, and I think he's right. We can't blame our nation's crime rates on the existence of guns and assume that only regulating guns more heavily will fix the problem. But the NRA's mantra is also true when understood like this: "Guns don't kill people, people kill people with guns." Conservative thinkers always forget that crime happens "with guns" and that school shootings are executed "with guns." What more can we do besides try and stop the flow of guns to those who might misuse them?

We need conservatives to face that fact that there are sensible steps that can be taken to reduce gang violence and the illegal sale of guns to felons that won't violate an individual's "right to bear arms."

At a recent Senate Finance Committee meeting on health care, Senator John Ensign, a Republican from Nevada, asked his Democratic colleagues, "Are you aware that if you take out gun accidents and auto accidents, that the United States [has a] better [life expectancy rate than other industrialized nations]?"

If that's true, why aren't Senator Ensign and his party doing as much as they can to prevent gun deaths and auto accidents? And if they don't think that more gun regulation will help fix the problem, why haven't they yet suggested what will?

Any solution will require effort from all parts of the political spectrum. Regulating guns from criminals and allowing responsible citizens to own guns are not mutually exclusive goals. But just as the Right needs to calm their knee-jerk reaction to gun regulation, the Left needs to give them an opportunity to make an honest effort. Like most problems in American politics, we could do a lot of good if we'd only agree to sit down at the same table.

Joe Babler is a member of the Class of 2010.