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Gun control, stronger communities and ending the violence epidemic

Crosses representing victims of gun violence stand outside Collins Academy High School in Chicago's North Lawndale neighborhood. | AP Photo/Martha Irvine

Seventy-one people were shot this past weekend in Chicago. Twelve people lost their lives. The numbers are staggering, but they can never measure the futures lost and the devastation experienced by families left behind.

Our communities are strong and resilient. Our families are striving for something better. But many are running up against entrenched barriers of systemic racism and disinvestment, and for too long, leadership in Illinois has been just another impediment.

It’s time to change that.


It’s time we address gun violence as we would treat a public health epidemic. Like treating a disease, we need to interrupt gun violence, reduce the risk of it spreading, and prevent it by building safer and healthier communities.

Without a doubt, we need common-sense and long-overdue gun safety legislation. Criminals and those who want to do harm shouldn’t have access to guns, and no one should have access to weapons of war or be able to obtain guns illegally. We need to ban assault weapons, bump stocks, and high-capacity magazines, and we need to stop the importation of illegal guns across Illinois’ borders. It’s also time to enforce universal background checks and enact a gun dealer licensing bill.

That legislation is supported by lawmakers of both parties in the General Assembly, and it is time for a new governor in Springfield ready to sign it into law.

Restoring trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve requires transparency and accountability in law enforcement, as well as training that includes de-escalation tactics and proper use of force. Community members must also feel safe coming forward to report crimes and testify.

While gun safety measures and rebuilding trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve is critical, taken alone they will not end the violence.

To end gun violence, just as with any public health epidemic, we must address its root causes by bringing real economic opportunity to the communities affected most. I’m not talking about lip service, but true investment that seeks to build wealth and prosperity. Fostering economic inclusion and expanding opportunities for minority entrepreneurs is critically important. It’s past time that we reverse the trend of disinvestment and restore hope and economic justice to communities that need it most. We can do that by providing capital for small businesses, investing in accelerators for entrepreneurs and workers, and improving education for our young people.

Strengthening communities also requires that we invest in community-based programs working to interrupt gun violence before it happens, and give children and families the tools they need to build better lives. After-school programs, mental health services, and violence prevention organizations were decimated by Bruce Rauner’s budget crisis. These are the tools of prevention and they must be restored to full strength.

And we have to invest more intentionally in public education from cradle to career, to increase the wage potential and economic opportunity of people in communities across Chicago and our state.

We face real and systemic challenges, but I’m optimistic because across Illinois, I’ve seen incredible strength and resilience. I’ve met young people standing up to their elected leaders and demanding that those leaders take action to keep them safe. I’ve met parents who lost their children to gun violence and are now fighting so that other parents never have to feel the same pain. It’s time for our leaders to reflect that same strength, doing what’s right in spite of, and even because of, the barriers thrown in front of them.

It is time for those in power to find the courage to act, or step aside and let someone else do the job.

J.B. Pritzker is the Democratic candidate for Illinois governor.

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