In Chicago neighborhoods where the rattling of gunfire is a daily terror, the stately Capitol in Springfield can seem to be part of another universe.
But that’s no excuse for lawmakers in Springfield to act as though they are in a different universe from our embattled city.
Just over the Memorial Day weekend, 43 people were shot and 12 were killed in Chicago. Among the victims was Jacele Johnson, a four-year-old girl shot in a car parked near a prom celebration. On Monday, Chicago Police reported 161 killings in 151 days, and on Tuesday many Chicagoans were wearing orange in memory of gun victim Hadiya Pendleton. And the higher-crime summer months are upon us.
Springfield’s response lately? Pretty much not-so-benign neglect.
It doesn’t have to be this way. On Sunday, on the floor of the Illinois House, state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, implored lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to ignore the lobbyists and work together on sensible gun laws. To show good faith, Cassidy voted in favor of a bill she normally would have opposed that slightly expanded gun rights without any similar improvements for gun safety.
Can one speech make a difference?
Guns in Chicago are a huge problem. Flying bullets end lives and scare away businesses and families. As we’ve pointed out before, it is the lax laws in the state of Illinois and nearby states that allow guns to flow into the city. On Saturday, a protest is scheduled in Riverdale at Chuck’s Gun Shop & Pistol Range, the source of more than 1,500 crime guns used in Chicago since 2009. To put that in perspective, the vast majority of gun dealers sell no crime guns at all.
But many Downstate lawmakers who may have owned a hunting rifle by the time they were 12 don’t really understand that. They tend to be swayed by pro-gun lobbyists who preach that Chicago lawmakers want to take people’s guns away. Those lawmakers are the people Cassidy was speaking to when she called for a good-faith effort to find a middle ground.
Just as Chicago area legislators can’t afford, as Cassidy said, to look like rabid gun grabbers, legislators from districts elsewhere in the state need to keep these facts in mind: Chicago Police take more illegal guns off the street than police do in New York and Los Angeles combined. Sixty percent of crime guns recovered in Chicago were sold legally in other states, many of which have weak gun laws. Just four gun shops outside the city are the source of nearly 20 percent of crime guns recovered in Chicago. People can buy from gun owners in Indiana, Wisconsin or Mississippi without any background checks or paperwork.
As Cassidy said, “It’s not the lobbyists’ job to find middle ground. It’s our job as colleagues to find the middle ground. . . . Meet me in that place where we respect those who are worthy of respect.”
Surely Cassidy is right that there is a middle ground acceptable to lawmakers around the state that can close that spigot of firearms.
“I don’t want your guns, but I don’t want them showing up in my neighborhood anymore,” she told the lawmakers. “I don’t want to be afraid to send my children out to play. And I don’t want to hear about anymore 4-year-old babies with bullets in their brains. Help me.”
How about it, Springfield?