Carrying photos of lost loved ones and signs reading, "We Deserve a Vote," a strong crowd turned out in the freezing Chicago rain in support of universal background checks on Friday.
Organized by 10 Illinois and Chicago based anti-gun violence groups, the rally comes weeks after the Obamas attended services for slain Hadiya Pendleton in Chicago and as Illinois' ban against concealed weapons has been overturned.
The stakes to curtail gun violence cannot be higher said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, because legislation to ban assault weapons is in the Illinois legislature "right now." Preckwinkle, who served as a Chicago alderman for 19 years, was able to pass a $25 county tax on firearms last year but noted the loopholes in Illinois that perpetuate gun violence.
Firearms Owner's Identification (FOID) Cards are issued in Illinois, for example, for 10 years and there is "no checking" if the owner has been charged with crimes since issuance, said Preckwinkle. And, "designated streetpersons" who supply weapons through straw purchase operations simply say they "lost" their weapon or "it was stolen" when they are identified or apprehended.
"We have a Sandy Hook every month," proclaimed Tio Hardiman from Ceasefire IL, which focuses on street violence and works with 1,100 high risk individuals. While a "full court press" is necessary, said Hardiman, the recent attention to gun violence in Chicago after the shooting death of Hadiya Pendleton, who had appeared at President Obama's inauguration, has produced a rare drop in shootings and gun deaths in February.
April 16, 2007 changed the life forever of Garret Evans. That's when he witnessed a .22 pistol appear in his Virginia Tech classroom and his instructor shot in the head, falling to the ground, Evans told the crowd. Shot through the leg himself, surrounded by wounded friends and dying classmates, Evans says the mass shooting of 33 was so "surreal" that six people were admitted to psychiatric units within 24 hours. An appropriate background check would have stopped the shooter, Cho Seung-hui, whose mental incapacitation slipped through loose laws, according to published reports.
In a short interview after his remarks, Evans said he now speaks about gun violence and glorification at schools and organizations and that "no venue is too big." His hardest challenge since the shooting was finishing his degree program in economics at Virginia Tech, he says. Through faith, he has forgiven the troubled shooter since "pulling a gun on someone is not a joyous act."
Also addressing the crowd was Stephen Young, who lost his son to gun violence in 1996. Public outrage ended the Vietnam War, which cost 58,000 lives, Young told the crowd, yet gun violence claims an equal number of lives every two years in the United States and there is not similar outrage.
Many are watching gun policy in Illinois for a reason other than the shooting of Hadiya Pendleton. On December 11, the same day as the deadly Oregon mall shooting, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the gun lobby in determining that Illinois' longtime ban on carrying a concealed weapon was unconstitutional. A subsequent request by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan for a rehearing was rejected by a federal appeals court on Friday -- and the ruling was announced at the rally by Lee Goodman of Stop Concealed Carry. Undaunted, Goodman expressed hopes that Madigan would take the fight to the Supreme Court. The crowd chanted "We Deserve a Vote.