Candidate for Illinois Governor Criticizes Fellow Dems for Inaction on Guns

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CHICAGO — A top contender for the Democratic nomination for governor of Illinois said that state elected officials, including members of his own party, haven’t done nearly enough to combat gun violence.

In an interview with The Trace in his campaign office in downtown Chicago, Chris Kennedy, a son of the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy, questioned the commitment of lawmakers after measures intended to fight gun crime failed earlier this year in the state Legislature. One of the bills would have banned bump stocks, the gun accessories that mimic machine-gun fire which were used by the killer in the Las Vegas massacre in October. It was defeated in the House after lawmakers, including Democrats, criticized it for being too broad.

“I don’t know how you could have that many Democrats in the House and Senate and not get something done,” Kennedy said. “I think the party has lost its way.”

Kennedy also called for a reform of the state’s property tax system, which he said shortchanges public schools, underfunds police, and has led to drastic cuts in social services — all of which he said have contributed to persistent gun violence.

Kennedy is vying for the Democratic nomination in a crowded field that includes front-runner J.B. Pritzker, a billionaire investor and heir to the Hyatt Hotel fortune, and State Senator Daniel Biss, among others. The primary will be held in March 2018, followed by the general election on November 6.

The incumbent, Bruce Rauner, a Republican, is seeking re-election for what would be his second term.

Kennedy has called for a progressive income tax and for barring people who work as tax-appeal lawyers from holding elective office, saying they have enriched themselves at the expense of others. The promise is not insignificant, as some of the most powerful Democratic politicians in Illinois and Chicago work in that field.

Gun violence has emerged as a key issue in the election, as Chicago, in particular, has struggled to curb gun crime. As of mid-December, there had been at least 638 homicides in the city of 2.7 million in 2017, according to the Chicago Police Department. That reflects about a 20 percent drop from 2016, the most violent year in the city since the early 1990s.

The city’s continued violence has made it a favorite target of President Donald Trump, who has regularly singled out Chicago  as an example of failed gun-control policies.

Kennedy’s first television ad, released last month, included a call to “stop the slaughter.”

The issue is deeply personal both to Kennedy and his running mate Ra Joy, the candidate for lieutenant governor.

Kennedy’s father was shot and killed in 1968 while campaigning for president. His uncle, President John F. Kennedy, was assassinated in 1963 during his first term as president.

In June, Joy’s 23-year-old son, Xavier, was fatally shot near the University of Chicago campus.

“Sometimes I think it would be easier to have my heart removed because of how broken it is with our loss,” Joy said. “I have become obsessed with this issue of violence and how to prevent other families from enduring the pain that we have experienced.”

Kennedy has laid out an eight-point plan aimed at reducing gun violence, which includes increased mental health services to those impacted by gun violence, supporting community-based violence-disruption programs, and strengthening the state’s gun laws.

Detailed funding for Kennedy’s antiviolence initiatives would be rolled out in conjunction with a comprehensive state budget proposal, a campaign official said, stressing that the proposal would be both “morally imperative and economically wise.”  

Social and emotional health programs in public schools located in areas of heightened violence, as well as staff for such  programs, could be introduced if Illinois moved away from its current property tax system, according to Kennedy.

One of the gun-regulation bills that failed earlier this year was the Gun Dealer Licensing Act, which would have required gun shops in Illinois to obtain a state license in addition to their already required federal license. It would have also compelled dealers to conduct background checks of their employees. The measure was pulled from a vote in the Democratic-controlled House in November after it failed to garner enough votes.

The decision to delay the vote came just three days after a gunman opened fire on a rural Texas church, killing 26 people. Kennedy has pledged to move forward with the legislation.

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