Lawmakers hear from survivors, advocates for assault weapon ban

By Peter Hancock 
Capitol News Illinois


Multiple people were killed during a mass shooting on July 4 in Highland Park. Survivors of that deadly event appeared before a legislative committee hearing on banning assault weapons in Illinois on Dec. 12. (Chronicle Media file photo)

SPRINGFIELD – Victims and survivors of multiple mass shootings urged state lawmakers on Monday to pass a ban on assault weapons, arguing that communities throughout Illinois have felt the pain of deadly mass shootings.

“I was shot multiple times on the Fourth of July in Highland Park,” Lauren Bennett said during a legislative committee meeting in Chicago.

She described the “maelstrom” of bullets that tore through a crowd during an Independence Day parade this year.

“As a gunshot survivor, a mom and a citizen of Illinois, I sit before you today to provide my support for the proposal to provide additional protections to communities as it relates to assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, and raising the age of gun purchases,” she said. “Something has to change.”

Lawmakers have considered assault weapons bans in the past, and Gov. J.B. Pritzker has campaigned on what he says is a need for stricter gun laws in the state. But it was the Highland Park shooting on July 4, which left seven people dead and dozens more injured, that vaulted the issue to the forefront and brought pressure on lawmakers to act decisively.

That could happen early next month when the General Assembly convenes a lame duck session, scheduled for five days from Jan. 4-10. Among the proposals expected to be debated is House Bill 5855, the “Protect Illinois Communities Act,” by Rep. Bob Morgan, D-Deerfield, whose district includes Highland Park.

“In less than one minute, less than a minute, the assailant shot 83 bullets into the crowd, killing seven and injuring dozens of my neighbors and constituents, people that lived in the district, people who did not,” Morgan said, quoting in part from a resolution he has sponsored mourning those who died in the shooting.

But many other people came to the hearing to remind lawmakers that Highland Park —an upscale, predominantly white suburb north of Chicago — is not the only community in Illinois to experience a mass shooting and that Black and brown communities are far more likely to be the scenes of such violence.

“On July 4 of this year, when the tragedy occurred in Highland Park, my heart went out to them. …I continue to pray for them,” said Jaquie Algee, a South Side resident who lost her only son in a different shooting. “But at the same token, in Black communities around the city and state, there were 10 — in this city — 10 Black kids that were shot and killed that day. There were 62 that were shot and injured.”

“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 this pain,” she added. “That doesn’t happen for us. And that’s a shame.”

Among other things, HB5855 would make it illegal to manufacture, sell or purchase an assault-style weapon, assault weapon attachment, .50-caliber rifle, or .50-caliber cartridge. And starting 300 days after the bill takes effect, it would make it illegal to possess such a weapon or ammunition unless it is registered with the Illinois State Police.

Large capacity ammunition feeding devices also would be prohibited under the bill.

The bill would also repeal a provision of current law that allows people between the ages of 18 and 21 to obtain a Firearm Owners Identification Card with parental consent, unless the applicant is a member of the U.S. armed forces or the Illinois National Guard. And it would require that when people under age 21 are hunting under the supervision of an adult, the adult must possess a FOID card.

Additionally, it would amend the state’s Firearms Restraining Order Act to provide that a petitioner could request a one-year, rather than six-month, restraining order against someone believed to be a danger to themselves or others.

Although Monday’s hearing included testimony from only supporters of the bill, Rep. Justin Slaughter, D-Chicago, who chairs the Judiciary-Criminal Committee, said more hearings will be held, including one scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 15.

Meanwhile, Rep. Jennifer Gong Gershowitz, D-Glenview, said additional legislation dealing with gun safety could be forthcoming.

“We know that there is not just one measure that is going to make a difference, that is going to begin to turn the corner on the pain that has been expressed in this room today,” she said. “And I just want to share that on behalf of my colleagues, that I pledge to you that this is not the totality of our work on this issue.”