Less than 36 hours after a shooter opened fire at the Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, killing seven people, Vice President Kamala Harris arrived in the north suburb Tuesday evening calling for federal action on assault weapons.
“We’ve got to be smarter as a country in terms of who has access to what, in particular assault weapons,” said Harris, who was joined by Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering and other Democratic politicians. “And we’ve got to take this stuff seriously. The whole nation should understand and have a level of empathy to understand that this could happen anywhere in any peace-loving community. And we should stand together and speak out about why it’s got to stop. ”
Earlier in the day, Harris called for reinstituting a national assault weapon ban.
“We have more to do. We have more to do. Congress needs to have the courage to act and renew the assault weapons ban, ”Harris told a group of educators at the National Education Association conference at McCormick Place in Chicago. “We need reasonable gun safety laws. And we need to have Congress stop protecting those gun manufacturers with the liability shield. Repeal it. Repeal it. ”
A few hours later, in a short speech given in the heart of Highland Park, Harris offered condolences from President Joe Biden.
“You know that you have a whole nation that cares deeply about you, and stands with you. This is an incredibly tight community. I know that, ”Harris said. “And this person will be brought to justice, but it’s not going to undo what happened. And we’re here for you and we stand with you. ”
Just hours before Harris visited Highland Park, Gov. JB Pritzker advocated for a state-level ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines while also calling for similar action on a federal level.
“We urgently need federal regulation on the weapons of war and high capacity magazines that are used only for mass murder,” Pritzker said in a statement. “Illinois is not an island, and even with some of the strictest gun laws in the nation, our state is only as safe as the state with the weakest laws – many of which border Illinois.”
The comments from Harris and Pritzker come amid a national debate about mass shootings and gun control efforts. Pritzker’s opponent in the case, Republican nominee Darren Bailey, a state senator from Downstate Xenia, is an ardent gun rights supporter who opposes firearms regulations.
On Tuesday, Bailey continued to try to walk back comments he made after the shooting when he posted a video on Facebook praying for victims and law enforcement and declared “let’s move on and let’s celebrate” the holiday. Bailey took to Twitter Tuesday to pivot from that sentiment and urged the public to “commit to better addressing mental health in Illinois and across the nation.”
In addition, Bailey also attempted to tie the Highland Park parade shooting to the shooting of a 10-year-old boy over the holiday weekend on Chicago’s South Side, even though Highland Park is an affluent suburb 30 miles north of Chicago.
“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. “We will also continue to call for a special (state legislative) session to prioritize our budget to better fund mental health services and law enforcement to ensure public safety is a priority in EVERY community.”
State Rep. Bob Morgan, a Democrat from Deerfield, who represents Highland Park, said that while funding for mental health can be increased and training to identify troubled youths can be improved, “there are things that we have yet to find the courage to do, like banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. ”
“We had police officers on every corner of the parade,” said Morgan, who was getting started to step off at the parade with his wife and two children when shots rang out. “So having more police officers alone would not have stopped it. So what would’ve stopped it? ”
Recent attempts to ban or restrict the sale and possession of assault weapons in Illinois have faltered. Proposals introduced in both the State House and Senate in the years since that would have banned assault weapons haven’t even gotten a committee vote.
State Rep. Maura Hirschauer, a Batavia Democrat who helped found a branch of the anti-gun violence group Moms Demand Action, introduced legislation in January that, with a few exceptions, would ban the sale or possession of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition-feeding devices . The proposal has not advanced out of committee.
The General Assembly passed a measure last year designed to strengthen background checks for gun sales and address issues that have allowed people to keep their guns after losing their firearm owner’s identification cards. Hirschauer said it’s time to take more sweeping steps.
“We’re taking small bites of the apple, and we need to take bigger bites of the apple, and now is the time to do it with an assault weapons ban and high-capacity magazine ban,” she said.
Resistance to stricter gun regulations among Democrats has traditionally come from Downstate members, and Hirschauer said that “it’s tough to know” how Monday’s events will affect that dynamic.
Ed Sullivan, a contract lobbyist for the Illinois State Rifle Association, said he thinks addressing “economic disparities and institutional racism” would be a more effective way to fight violence in the general sense than strengthening gun laws.
Sullivan, a former Republican state representative from Mundelein, also noted that while legislators have introduced measures to ban assault weapons over the years, he questioned the effectiveness of that option.
“There are legislators that have certain ideas on what should happen in gun control, and we certainly respect everybody’s ideas,” Sullivan said. “At the end of the day, we just saw a deranged person not follow the law. And so if you ban them in Illinois, there’s still going to be assault weapons, and so the only people that are going to be affected are law-abiding citizens. ”