Legislators urged to pass Illinois assault weapons ban after Highland Park, other shootings

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Gunshot survivor Conttina Patterson speaks about being wounded in a mass shooting at the first hearing on proposed gun legislation before of the House Judiciary Committee.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Lauren Bennett spoke of the persistent fear that she would die from wounds she suffered in the Highland Park Fourth of July shooting — and the physical scars that remain on her bullet-ridden body.

Conttina Patterson sat with crutches nearby — having lived through an East Garfield Park mass shooting on Halloween that left her with a bullet hole so large it broke a bone.

And activist Jaquie Algee brought a photograph of her son and told of the daily pain of decades of grief over Kenneth, who did not survive a 1995 shooting.

The three women were among those who testified before the Illinois House Judiciary Committee in Chicago on Monday, as legislators gear up to once again try to pass an assault weapons ban. 

House Democrats on Dec. 1 introduced legislation that would ban the sale of assault weapons immediately, prevent sales of ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds and raise eligibility for a state firearm owner identification card for most Illinois residents to 21.

Sponsors need just 60 votes come Jan. 1, and they plan to take up the measure during the lame duck session early next month.

But the law is just a first step, Algee said.

Jaquie Algee speaks about the gun violence affecting communities during testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on Monday.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

“We can pass laws, but change will not happen unless we enforce change. And change has to be for everyone — from Highland Park to Roseland, from Englewood to Austin. Change has to happen for everyone,” she said. “And our legislators, all of you who are here and those that are not — from a city, from a state, from a federal perspective — have to be on the same page. 

“Skip the aisle, don’t worry about the aisle. Because the aisle doesn’t exist when it comes to human loss, hurt and pain.” 

“If we don’t do something about this, shame on us,” said Algee, an official with SEIU Healthcare of Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Kansas. 

Patterson, one of 14 people wounded in East Garfield Park on Oct. 31, agreed that even more needs to be done.

 “We need to be doing something about the guns,” she said. “Not only the AK-47, all guns. What will it take? So many have lost their lives. Not only being shot but victims just not here anymore to speak.

“So, I don’t know. What do we have to do? What can we do? What needs to be done? Stopping an AK-47 or an AR-15 type, that’s still not going to solve the problem. It’s still guns out here. A .22 can kill you. A nine millimeter can kill you. Something needs to be done with all guns.”

Gunshot survivor Conttina Patterson speaks about an Oct. 31 mass shooting that left her and 13 others wounded during testimony at the Bilandic Building on Monday.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

After the Highland Park shooting, legislators began meeting in a working group to try to come up with legislative solutions to prevent another mass shooting tragedy. Police say shooting suspect Robert Crimo III used a Smith & Wesson M&P15, an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle whose initials, M&P, stand for “military and police” to kill seven people and injure 48 others. 

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has said he would support passage of an assault weapons ban. Gun control groups have also formed a new non-profit group called “Protect Illinois Communities,” which is helping to drum up support via television ads and mailers. 

In 2015 in Illinois, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a local assault weapon ban in Highland Park, which could serve as a precedent for a statewide ban. Currently, there are no federal or state laws that prohibit the possession or sale of extended magazines, which can hold more than 10 rounds. Some of these magazines can hold up to 50 rounds before a shooter must reload.

Bennett has been among the most vocal survivors of the Highland Park tragedy. She was shot twice in her hip and back as she attended the parade with her husband, children and in-laws. She’s also among a group of survivors who have filed suit against gunmaker Smith & Wesson, two gun stores, Crimo III and his father, accusing them in part of violating Illinois consumer laws in the lead-up to the attack.

“For those who have never felt a bullet rip through your skin, let me explain how it feels,” Bennett said. “Imagine a hot metal, dart-like projectile tearing through your body at a supersonic speed, faster than the speed of sound.

“You’ll feel it burn through your skin, and likely you will quickly grab whatever part of your body was hit (because you know something is not right), only to feel that excessive amounts of blood draining out of you and soaking everything.

Highland Park gunshot survivor Lauren Bennett speaks on the July Fourth shooting during testimony at the first hearing on on proposed gun legislation at the Bilandic Building on Monday.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

“At this point, you most likely feel as if you are dying, maybe wondering if this is how it all ends, I can assure you that is what I was thinking.”

Speaking at the hearing, Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering told legislators a statewide assault weapons ban would represent a common sense step that would be worth it just to save one life. 

“Just like we don’t allow people to handle nuclear materials or own missile launchers and so on, these weapons are too dangerous for public access,” Rotering said. “Please help us reclaim our freedom and defend our human right to live. It’s time to turn prayers into action.” 

State Rep. Maurice West, D-Rockford, implored legislators to be open to ongoing discussions about gun control legislation — noting that a ban on assault weapons won’t fix everything.

“It just takes one bullet to take a life,” West said. “I ask that, if we can’t measure twice and cut once on this piece of legislation, that we keep the lines of communication open, proactively, proactively not reactively like we had to do in this vein. Proactively so that those who spoke to us today will know what we plan to do.” 

No opponents of the measure spoke on Monday, but they’re expected to participate in another hearing on Thursday. The Illinois State Rifle Association has said it plans to fight any assault weapons ban on constitutional grounds. 

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December 12, 2022 at 04:56PM

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