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We can — and should — slow the number of gun-related deaths

As gun violence violence rises during pandemic, it’s time to enact legislation to reduce it.

Activists call for an end to gun violence during the Women’s March in downtown Chicago on Jan. 18.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Every spring and summer, news headlines tell the tragic stories and statistics of the people lost and the communities devastated by gun violence. This year’s headlines have been dominated by COVID-19, but the loss and devastation has been just as great.

Unfortunately, gun violence in Illinois hasn’t stopped because of COVID-19, and the same communities most impacted by this epidemic are the same ones now also suffering from the COVID-19 disaster.

Across Illinois, while we’ve all been under orders to “stay at home,” gun violence is up 6 percent, unintentional shootings have increased and calls to domestic violence and suicide hotlines continue to grow. And in predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods, hospitals are struggling to attend to both COVID patients and shooting victims, as these communities grapple with the convergence of two deadly disasters. We must stop these trends before more lives are lost.

While these numbers are a sobering illustration of the deadly intersection of COVID-19 and gun violence, there is hope. The Illinois’ General Assembly is about to reconvene for a special session focused on the COVID crisis and other disasters. There, lawmakers have the opportunity to address our state’s gun violence epidemic by passing SB 1966, the BIO Bill, which will expand background checks to all gun sales. This life-saving law will reduce the flow of illegal guns by depriving the illegal market of a loophole that allows people deemed too dangerous to own a firearm to acquire them with no questions asked.

Earlier this month, concerned constituents from around Illinois showed broad support for this legislation by “rallying in place” as part of the Illinois Gun Violence Prevention Coalition’s Digital Day of Action. The event’s livestream reached more than 500,000 people online, upward of 1,000 residents contacted their state senators and over 50 organizations representing hospitals, faith communities, law enforcement and organized labor came together to call on the Illinois Senate to stand up for Illinois and pass SB 1966.

During the event, Senate President Don Harmon said he is committed to taking the BIO Bill over the finish line. We urge his colleagues in the Senate to demonstrate the same courage. Like any public health crisis, the gun violence epidemic will not go away unless bold action is taken. Now is the time for the Illinois Senate to save lives by passing SB 1966.

Kathleen Sances is president and CEO of the Gun Violence Prevention Action Committee.

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