The first to speak were the four professionals who deal with violence in their daily lives – the Fire Department chaplain, two doctors, and a local activist. Then came the stories from residents whose lives have been seared by gun violence, those whose child or loved one had been murdered by a person with a gun.
When scientific research determined that guns in the house posed a threat to the household, the NRA was able to have legislation passed to prevent such research.
“This is a hard time; the news is not encouraging,” said Fire Department Chaplain David Jones to the audience of nearly 75 people at a meeting on gun violence on Feb. 22 at the Morton Civic Center. “It is really good that we are together, and it is important that we keep doing this, because this is where the hope is.”
Denyse Stoneback founded People for a Safer Society after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012, where one person killed 26 people, most of them students.
“Help us advance legislation,” she said, referring to two bills in Springfield that could help limit guns in Illinois. Senate Bill 1657, the Gun Dealer Licensing Act, would allow greater inspection of gun dealers – the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms inspects gun dealerships every seven to 10 years, she said – and would train owners of gun shops about how to conduct background checks. Another Senate Bill, 1291, would create a Lethal Violence Order of Protection, under which a petitioner could allege by affidavit or verified pleading that the respondent poses harm to him/herself or others by possessing or having access to a firearm. She urged audience members to call their legislators and voice support for those bills.
Ms. Stoneback also suggested that people divest their retirement funds of gun manufacturers. “We’re fighting the gun lobby,” she said. “Mark your calendars,” she said, for March 14, National School Walkout Day – a 17-minute walkout at 10 a.m.; April 20, National High School Walkout Day – anniversary of the Columbine shootings; and April 24, the March for Our Lives – rallies and marches in Washington, D.C., and Chicago.
Dr. Marjorie Fujara, is a pediatrician at Stroger Hospital in Chicago, working with victims of child abuse. She says she uses a public-health lens to look at gun violence. She said the anti-smoking campaign of the late 20th century offers a model for an anti-gun campaign. That campaign began in towns and spread place by place, she said. Once people learned of the dangers of secondhand smoke, big tobacco started to lose it grip.
A comparison can be made to the “collateral effects” of being exposed to gun violence, which spill onto children and families.
Exposure to violence is one of the childhood ACEs – adverse childhood experiences – identified by the Centers for Disease Control as having long-term negative effects on children’s physical and mental health and social behavior.
The National Rifle Association has taken several steps to prevent conversations about gun violence, Dr. Fujara said. When scientific research determined that guns in the house posed a threat to the household, the NRA was able to have legislation passed to prevent such research, she said. The Dickey Amendment to an appropriations bill in 1996 states, “None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” The amendment is renewed annually, although reportedly the late Jay Dickey of Arkansas, who sponsored the amendment, said he regretted it.
Another regulation allows only law enforcement officials to track guns to ascertain where they were purchased, stolen, etc. Journalists, medical professionals, and others may not do this. Laws also exempt gun manufacturers and distributers from accountability for most damages.
Dr. Fujara said many mass shooters have two things in common: a lack of self-regulating skills, so they cannot control their anger, and a lack of social connections. “If we can restore community contacts to those who do not have them and have strong gun regulation, we can go a long way toward curbing gun violence,” she said.
Dr. Traci Kurtzer, a member of Moms Demand Action and a physician whose field includes the prevention of intimate-partner violence, also encouraged audience members to call their legislators in support of the Gun Dealer Licensing Act. Another State-level action of Moms Demand Action is the “Throw Them Out” campaign to “get rid of legislators who accept money from the NRA.”
On the federal level, Dr. Kurtzer said, a critical issue is the Conceal Carry Reciprocity Bill, which would mandate that states recognize others’ gun laws – so that a person visiting Illinois would be subject to the laws of his or her state of residence, not Illinois’ gun laws.
Four hundred children under the age of 17 commit suicide by gun each year in this country, Dr. Kurtzer said. Moms Demand Action would like to cut down the number of guns in private homes. To minimize the risk to children who live in or visit a home where there are firearms, Moms Demand Action recommends “Be SMART – Secure handguns; Model sensible gun-ownership behavior; Ask if there are firearms in the home; Recognize teens at risk; and Talk about gun violence.”
June 2 is Hedaya Pendleton “Wear Orange Day” and National Gun Violence Awareness Day. People wear orange on that day in memory of Hedaya, who, at 15, was gunned down in Chicago. Orange was her favorite color.
“We know it is up to us to make sure that change happens,” said Ms. Stoneback. “We need to stop asking Congress to pass stronger gun laws,” said Dr. Fujara. “We must insist on it.”