As I have for every Fourth of July in recent years, I woke up this year with an excitement to celebrate the day with my friends, family and the Highland Park community.
I couldn’t wait to hear the cheers, see the smiles and celebrate the beautiful day.
But within a blink of an eye, at 10:14 a.m., the Highland Park community was forever changed. Those cheers turned to screams and those smiles turned to cries as a 21-year-old man opened fire on the celebration, killing seven people and injuring dozens more with a high-powered, rapid-fire weapon.
The next nine hours felt like nine days as we waited for the killer to be apprehended. The whole community stood in silence and fear, holding its breath waiting for the man who brought immeasurable pain to our community to be caught.
As days have passed, each of us in the community have felt pain. In a town of about 30,000 people, almost everyone knows someone who has been affected. No matter where you go in the city, you’re reminded of the tragic loss of life. Our town is now on the map with Buffalo, Uvalde and so many other towns across this nation that have been stricken by heinous gun violence in recent months.
And that’s the problem — gone are the times of a mass shooting seeming like a rare event. In today’s America, just as the nation begins to heal from one attack, another ensues. How much longer can we sit back silently and only offer thoughts and prayers without real, tangible solutions?
I have been a longstanding champion of Illinois gun laws. In 2018, I worked to pass the state’s red flag law, allowing family members, household members and law enforcement to obtain a civil order to temporarily remove firearms from people who pose a risk of harm to themselves or others.
There have been questions circulating as to why the Highland Park killer was able to obtain a weapon following two incidents with police in 2019 — one in which he said he was going to “kill everyone” and one that resulted in seizing 16 knives, a dagger and a sword. That’s a question I, too, had.
Following this tragedy, the Illinois State Police filed an emergency rule change to broaden the use of clear and present danger reports for those applying for a Firearm Owners Identification card or who currently have one. The change would allow for the evaluation of historic clear and present danger information even if the person was not actively seeking or holding a FOID card at the time of the report.
This is a good first step to ensure what happened in Highland Park doesn’t happen in other towns across our state.
Yet even with these laws and rules in place, there’s another dangerous, senseless issue on our streets: high-powered semi-automatic weapons. I firmly believe there is no reason for person to need a military-grade weapon. We must ban these firearms and high-capacity magazines once and for all.
An analysis of public mass shootings resulting in four or more deaths found that more than 85% of such fatalities were caused by rifles of this type. During the 10-year period from 1994-2004 when such weapons were banned, mass shooting fatalities were 70% less likely to occur compared to the periods before and after the ban.
That alone — and the horrific attacks in our country we see on the news at alarming rates — shows the dire need for a ban on these high-powered military-style weapons.
As I call for action to be taken to ensure no other city ends up on the map like our beautiful town of Highland Park, I would be remiss if I didn’t take time to thank those who have taken action themselves to help in a time of great need.
If there’s one thing about Highland Park to note, it’s that we are a tight-knit community. And this July Fourth tragedy further proved just that — that in Highland Park, we look after one another.
It’s the law enforcement officers who quickly took action to save hundreds lives. It’s the young couple who took care of the two-year-old boy whose parents were just brutally murdered in front of him. It’s each and every person who lives here who has reached out to give a helping hand.
To each person who put the safety of others above themselves, I thank you. And now, it’s our turn as elected officials to do the same. It’s time we put the safety of the people we represent above the gun lobby.
• Illinois Sen. Julie Morrison is a Democrat from Lake Forest.
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July 24, 2022 at 01:28AM