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HIGHLAND PARK — After north-suburban Highland Park became the latest American community to suffer a mass shooting, Illinois lawmakers are stepping up their calls to crack down on guns to prevent future violence.
Seven people were killed and 45 people were injured when a gunman opened fire during Highland Park’s Fourth of July parade Monday. The tragedy sparked calls to action from lawmakers demanding steps be taken to reduce gun violence and end mass shootings. Lawmakers are calling for a variety of actions at the state and federal level including a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, more funding for mental health programs and stronger “red flag” laws.
“If you’re angry today, I’m here to tell you be angry,” Gov. JB Pritzker said during a news conference Monday. “I’m furious. I’m furious that yet more innocent lives were taken by gun violence… I’m furious because it does not have to be that way, yet we as a nation, we continue to allow this to happen.”
Pritzker charactered mass shootings as a “weekly American tradition” and said conversations should start immediately on how to prevent it from happening again.
Early conversations on legislative action have centered around the weapon Highwood resident Bobby Crimo used to gun down parade goers. Lake County Sheriff Deputy Chief Chris Covelli declined to specify the exact type of gun Crimo used, but he said it was a high-powered rifle “similar to an AR-15.”
Crimo was also in possession of a second rifle when he was arrested following a traffic stop, Covelli told reporters Tuesday, and potentially owned other handguns. Crimo bought both rifles legally in Illinois and registered them, Covelli said, although Highland Park has a municipal ordinance banning possession of assault weapons.
“Our founders carried muskets, not assault weapons and I don’t think a single one of them would’ve said you have a constitutional right to an assault weapon with a high-capacity magazine,” Pritzker said.
U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) said she supports an assault weapon ban at the federal level.
“The last time I heard a weapon with that capacity firing that rapidly was in Iraq,” said Duckworth, a Purple Heart recipient and Iraq war veteran.
Vice President Kamala Harris visited Highland Park Tuesday evening alongside U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering, Sen. Julie Morrison (D-Lake Forest) and Rep. Bob Morgan (D-Deerfield). The group met with first responders and Harris spoke briefly to a crowd of reporters and residents.
“We’ve got to be smarter as a country in terms of who has access to what, and in particular assault weapons,” Harris said. “We have to take this stuff seriously. As seriously as you are because you have been forced to take it seriously. The whole nation should understand and have a level of empathy to understand that this can happen anywhere, in any peace-loving community.”
Similar conversations could also happen at the state level, leaders said.
Rep. Denyse Stoneback (D-Skokie) said she wants to convene a special session to pass gun legislation.
“It would be great to get something in the works right now,” Stoneback told The Daily Line. “I’m in conversations with colleagues, with leadership. [I would] certainly would like to see something sooner rather than later.”
Stoneback cited a list of proposals she believes could reduce gun violence in Illinois and prevent more mass shootings. This includes banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, requiring firearms to micro stamp bullets to help police trace shell ammunition to a specific gun, require mandatory fingerprinting for gun purchasers and require purchasers to visit a police department for a background check before purchasing a gun. Stoneback’s bill, HB5535, would change Illinois’ background checks and fingerprinting requirements as well as require gun owners to go through training.
“I think we really need to find solutions that are based in research and are shown to reduce gun violence,” Stoneback said.
She said she is also appalled that Crimo was able to legally buy his weapons to carry out the shooting, saying it shows why banning assault weapons is necessary.
“Here we have a clear-cut case of a person who purchased a legal firearm in Illinois, and this is what happened,” said Stoneback, who lost her primary election last week.
Other Democrats are also calling for more action to reduce gun violence.
“At some point, we have to put politics aside and focus as a nation on gun control,” Rep. Marcus Evans (D-Chicago) said in a statement. “No community is safe. There are just too many guns in this country.”
On the Republican side, gubernatorial nominee Sen. Darren Bailey (R-Xenia) called for a special session to focus on mental health resources to address gun violence.
“My team and I will continue reaching out to law enforcement, members of the public health community, and more to find workable solutions to address these problems,” Bailey said in a statement. “We will also continue to call for a special session to prioritize our budget to better fund mental health services and law enforcement to ensure public safety is a priority in every community.”
Bailey also quickly found himself in hot water Monday for statements he made about the shooting in a Facebook Live video after the Skokie parade he was scheduled to attend was canceled in the hours after the shooting.
“The shooter is still at large, so let’s pray for justice to prevail and then let’s move on and let’s celebrate the independence of this nation,” Bailey said.
Bailey then launched into political statements encouraging voters to root out corruption in government before closing the video with a prayer. Bailey later apologized in a statement to KSDK-TV.
“I apologize if in any way we diminished the pain being felt across our state today,” Bailey said in a statement. “I hope we can all come together in prayer and action to address rampant crime and mental health issues to make sure these horrific tragedies don’t happen again.”
However, Sen. Robert Martwick (D-Chicago), took issue with Republicans calling for more mental health funding to address gun violence.
“Blaming ‘mental health’ is disingenuous,” Martwick wrote in a tweet. “It is insulting to oppose efforts to provide affordable healthcare to every American, then blame lack of access to mental healthcare. And there are millions who manage their mental health conditions every day without murdering anyone.”
Stoneback said both mental health and gun legislation both have to be considered.
“I think mental health must be addressed and Illinois has a long way to go to improve mental health treatment in care,” Stoneback said. “I think better guns laws are in order as well as better mental health resources.”
She said she also wants people to know that Illinois does have resources that can take guns out of the hands of people who may be a danger to themselves or others. Lawmakers passed HB1092 last year, which requires the Illinois Department of Public Health to craft educational resources on Illinois’ red flag laws and train law enforcement officers on them each year. It also allows someone to petition a court to temporarily take guns away from a person who could be considered a threat.
“This was a bill to put forth among other things an education and awareness campaign around Illinois’ red flag laws, and a lot of people don’t know that we have this resource in Illinois,” Stoneback said.