A realization something can be done to curb gun violence arose from a roundtable organized by Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Deerfield) Thursday at the Wheeling Police Station amid an equal recognition the task will not be easy.
Schneider gathered seven stakeholders with different perspectives on the gun issue together to exchange ideas. He warned the effort would be a challenge but there was a sense from people in the room the time was right for a change.
“The nation has the will after Sandy Hook,” Jennifer Bishop Jenkins said. She heads the Illinois Chapter of the Million Mom March and is a long time gun control advocate. “Sandy Hook was like 9/11. It changed us.”
In addition to Jenkins, Schneider was joined by Wheeling Police Chief William Benson, North Chicago Mayor Leon Rockingham, Executive Director of Family First Center of Lake County Evelyn Chenier, business and gun owner Skip Robertson, Brady Campaign Board member Tom Vanden Berk of Highland Park and Nancy Carstedt, executive director of the National Alliance for Mental Illness of Cook County.
While Berk and Jenkins are moving ahead with issue advocacy and political action to combat the National Rifle Association and others who in their mind stand in the way of regulation of firearms, Schneider cautioned it will not be easy.
“Before us is an uphill march,” Schneider said to the group. “We have to stay on message. We won’t get this overnight,” he added of his hope to have universal background checks and control of gun trafficking.
Berk has already started a political action committee to support candidates who embrace his ideas as well as work against candidates who oppose reasonable control of firearms. “I have a PAC,” he said. “We’re going to get involved in a number of campaigns.”
Schneider made it clear he couples his advocacy for an assault weapons ban, increased background checks and other controls with support for the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution.
“We’re not going to take guns away,” Schneider said. “But, the nation is ready for a conversation. Forty percent of guns are sold without being checked and there is no federal law that would make gun trafficking illegal. Hopefully we can take some steps.”
Registration of guns is another position Berk advocates. “Every gun starts out legally,” he said. “What happens is they become illegal because there is no consistent enforcement or registration. Every person who purchases a gun is responsible.”
When it comes to gun registration, Benson is another proponent. “It’s a noticeable problem when you are required to register your bike or your dog but not your gun,” he said. He believes the answer is federal legislation.
Others talked about how the Sandy Hook shootings also put a spotlight on the correlation between mental health and gun access. Carstedt believed part of the solution is for people to look at mental illness as a disease no different than cancer or heart disease.
“There is stigma attached (to mental illness), Carstedt said. “Some people will not get treatment because they are ashamed.”