Left to right, Eileen Soderstrom, Anna Astalas, and Jessyca Dudley lead the panel discussion. All three are advocates for violence prevention in the Chicago area. Photo by Heidi Randhava

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In Evanston, there were on average 10 reports of gunshots fired every month so far in 2016, said Jessyca Dudley, a board member for Peaceable Cities Evanston, which advocates for violence prevention here.

“There is an ongoing desire for a solution-based conversation about gun violence – not just about the violence itself, but talk that is solutions-driven, both on the interventions front and the policy front,” said Ms. Dudley, who was part of a May 24 panel discussion at Gibbs-Morrison Cultural Center, 1823 Church St., along with anti-gun violence activists Anna Astalas of the Chicagoland Chapter of the Brady Campaign and Eileen Soderstrom, gun violence prevention team leader for the Chicago North Chapter of Organizing for Action.

Ms. Astalas said that 1993 background-check legislation has not been adequate in regulating firearms, since laws did not require checks for guns sold through private sales or gun shows. She added, “Now, as a result, we are left here in 2016, where about 40 percent of the guns that are sold – Internet or gun shows, etc. – do not have to undergo background checks. That’s a huge number.”

Another portion of the Brady Campaign’s work is stopping what she called “bad apple” gun dealers.

“We learned that about 90% of the guns used in crimes can be traced back to about 5% of the gun dealers,” Ms. Astalas noted. “Most gun dealers are very law-abiding, good businessmen, and they function appropriately. But about 5% of them, we’ve estimated, are bad apples. The City of Chicago did a study and they determined that there are three major bad apple gun dealers here in Cook County and there’s one just across the border in Indiana.”

The state does not license gun dealers. The federal government does, but, according to the panelists, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is understaffed, resulting in firearms dealers being inspected, on average, about once a decade.

“I don’t know if you’d want to go to a restaurant that was inspected once every 10 years,” said Ms. Soderstrom.

She said her activist work around gun violence began in earnest in 2012, when the Sandy Hook shootings occurred in Connecticut, just a few days following a ruling from a federal judge that struck down Illinois’ concealed carry ban. “That was a pretty shocking week for those of us who cared about gun violence.”

Among Ms. Soderstrom’s organization’s initiatives have been educating business owners about their rights to post signs banning fire arms, and encouraging consumers and organizations to divest from firearms manufacturers in their investment portfolios.

The panelists focused largely on the passage of HB 1016, a bill in the Illinois General Assembly as of press time that would require gun shops to be licensed. That legislation is sponsored by state Rep. Kathleen Willis; and all three of Evanston’s state representatives, Kelly Cassidy, Robyn Gabel, and Laura Fine, have signed on as co-sponsors.

The panelists spoke to the value of the audience reaching out to their own legislators about the issue, but encouraged them to try to convince family and friends in other parts of the state to do so as well, since their legislators might not be as sympathetic to the issue as Evanston’s representatives. They also encouraged the audience to fill out online witness slips to register their support for the bill.

The discussion became heated at times, when audience members questioned the effectiveness of lobbying strategies as a means to curb gun violence. Some suggested that such a law would do little more than place additional burdens on responsible gun owners and dealers; others called for more focused community strategies on structural and systemic problems that perpetuate criminal activity and recidivism.

After the discussion ended, Ms. Dudley said the panelists’ intention was to present a community-based intervention that could address gun violence as a problem, not offer a total solution. “These are difficult conversations to have,” she admitted. “But what we want to discuss here is something that people can do if they are concerned.”