Illinois lawmakers hear from survivors during first hearing on proposed assault weapon ban

Published: Dec. 12, 2022 at 5:56 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WGEM) - When will enough be enough? It’s a question many people ask in the wake of the hundreds of mass shootings that make headlines each year.

Survivors of recent mass shootings in Illinois are demanding a ban on the weapons used to kill their family members, friends and neighbors.

Illinois state lawmakers plan to vote on a proposal to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines during the lame-duck session in early January. Hearings are now underway to discuss how to best keep communities safe from future gun violence.

The United States has seen 626 mass shootings this year, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive.

Lauren Bennett said Monday that she survived a battlefield on a day her family should have enjoyed the Fourth of July parade in Highland Park. Bennett was shot twice during the attack and thought she was going to die along a parade route that always felt safe for her family. She explained that two doctors looked at her injuries and said they were amazed she survived the shooting.

“My family and I learned on that violent and traumatic day that we are all constantly in the line of fire,” Bennett said. “And until we realize this, so shall we remain.”

Bill sponsors know that gun legislation is a complicated topic. House Bill 5855, referred to as the Protect Illinois Communities Act, could make it unlawful to manufacture, deliver, sell or purchase assault weapons or high-capacity magazines. The plan would allow anyone who already owns assault weapons to register their firearms and pay a $25 fee to the Illinois State Police. This proposal could also prevent people under 21 from getting access to FOID cards unless they serve in the military or Illinois National Guard. Young people would still be allowed to hunt under the legislation, but they must be with an adult over 21 who holds a FOID card.

The bill language allows people to petition for a one-year firearm restraining order rather than the current 6-month orders. The legislation also requires the Illinois State Police Division of Criminal Investigation to conduct investigations of human trafficking, illegal drug trafficking and illegal firearm trafficking. The Division of Criminal Investigation would then provide statewide coordination and strategies for firearm-related intelligence, firearms trafficking interdiction and investigations. Survivors say this is common sense legislation that should have bipartisan support.

“Skip the aisle,” said Jaquie Algee. “Don’t worry about the aisle, because the aisle doesn’t exist when it comes to human loss, hurt, and pain.”

Algee is a leader for the Chicago Foundation for Women and serves as the vice president-director of external affairs for SEIU Healthcare of Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, and Kansas. However, Algee said this fight is personal for her as she lost her son to gun violence.

Still, Algee and other survivors of shootings in Chicago stressed that the legislation must be effective for every community impacted by gun violence - from Aurora to Peoria and Garfield Park to Highland Park. She said minority communities haven’t received the massive response to shootings that Highland Park did.

“We don’t have people rushing to give us therapy and counselors and people who will work with our children and our communities and people to help to recover from the pain,” Algee added.

Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering agrees that state leaders have to address that issue as well. She took time during the subject matter hearing to note other Illinois communities that suffered from mass shootings.

“They’ve happened here in Chicago, in Aurora, in DeKalb,” Rotering said. “And this year along also in Zion, East St. Louis, Yorkville, Waukegan, Decatur, Wheeling, Rockford, Crest Hill, North Chicago, Romeoville, Elgin, Joliet and Peoria. This is a list that shouldn’t exist.”

Highland Park had an assault weapon ban in place well before the mass shooting occurred this summer. Government leaders in several Chicago suburbs have passed ordinances banning assault weapons following the mass shooting.

“Just like we don’t allow people to handle nuclear materials or own missile launchers and so on, these weapons are too dangerous for public access,” Rotering said.

Many say they will not give up on their fight for a ban on the state and federal levels. 16-year-old Ellie Levy is a volunteer with Students Demand Action Illinois. Levy said she goes into school each day worried that it could be the day that someone decides to bring a gun into the building to harm others.

“The truth is my generation is fed up of feeling afraid to go to school and are getting old enough to start voting soon,” Levy said. “We expect our leaders to show up for policies that will keep our communities safe.”

The Illinois State Rifle Association and many gun owners oppose the legislation. They could have the opportunity to speak during future hearings. Nearly 19,640 witness slips were filed by people opposing the plan, while more than 12,800 people filed witness slips in support.

Democrats and Republicans on the House Judiciary-Criminal Committee agree that no community should live in fear of constant gun violence. Sponsors argue that an assault weapon ban is critical to keeping people in every corner of the state alive.

The Committee also unanimously approved a House Joint Resolution on Monday to mourn the lives lost during the Highland Park shooting and all those who have been lost to gun violence in Illinois. HJR 97 also honors Highland Park law enforcement, first responders, and community leaders who helped others in the community following the incident.

Rep. Bob Morgan (D-Deerfield) is urging state leaders to do everything possible to ensure no other community experiences trauma from gun violence. Committee members will meet for another subject matter hearing at 10 a.m. Thursday.

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