Highland Park July 4th parade slaughter unlikely to push Senate passing an assault weapons ban

Mayor Nancy Rotering, Highland Park Police Cmdr. Chris O’Neill and Gov. J.B. Pritzker have been invited to the White House on Monday.

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Dozens of mourners gather for a vigil near Central Avenue and St. Johns Avenue in downtown Highland Park on Tuesday, one day after a gunman killed at least seven people and wounded dozens more by firing an AR-15-style rifle from a rooftop onto a crowd attending Highland Park’s Fourth of July parade.

Dozens of mourners gather for a vigil near Central Avenue and St. Johns Avenue in downtown Highland Park on Tuesday, one day after a gunman killed at least seven people and wounded dozens more by firing an AR-15-style rifle from a rooftop onto a crowd attending Highland Park’s Fourth of July parade.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

WASHINGTON — Next Monday, if all goes as planned, Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering and Highland Park Police Cmdr. Chris O’Neill, who led the response to the horrific July 4th parade massacre, will be at the White House. Gov. J.B. Pritzker is also invited.

They will be there to mark what has been billed a celebration to mark a new gun reform law, the first in some 30 years, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.

The event was planned before the Highland Park slaughter, where a shooter with a Smith & Wesson M&P15 semiautomatic rifle killed seven people and wounded dozens of others on the Central Avenue parade route.

After doing nothing for decades, the mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde in May were the tipping point for a critical mass of Senate Republicans, and in June, Congress passed this gun reform measure. It was the first in about 30 years, a compromise but much better than nothing.

In the June negotiations, an assault weapons ban was never close to being on the table.

President Joe Biden rushed to sign the compromise measure before he left on a trip to Europe, explaining on June 25, “Time is of the essence. Lives will be saved.

“When we return from Europe, Jill and I will be hosting an event in the White House on July 11th to mark this historic achievement with members who voted for these families and the families who, in fact, were victimized by the gun shooting that we’ve seen this so — so incredible to see so much of it of late — to mark the historic passage of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.”

What Biden said as an observation — “so incredible to see so much of it of late” — turned out to be an enormous understatement, given the horror in Highland Park just days later.

Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart, the Illinois Democratic Senators, Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, Pritzker, Rotering and so many Democrats in blue state Illinois all have renewed calls for an assault weapons ban in the wake of Highland Park.

I know there are many important questions about how the shooting suspect — Robert E. Crimo III, given his personal history documented in police records — slipped through the “red flag” system. And there is also an issue about his father signing the firearms application for his then-underage son and whether he has any liability.

But let’s not forget the most important bottom line here — that when the day came when Crimo wanted to buy an assault weapon, there was an assault weapon available to be legally bought.

The new law the White House wants to mark funds more crisis intervention; closes some loopholes about who can buy a gun; requires youths from 18 to 21 to undergo enhanced background check; and beefs up federal punishment for gun trafficking and straw purchasers. There is also money to help survivors of gun violence deal with trauma.

For about nine years, members of the gun advocate community in an informal alliance have been holding weekly strategy meetings — they call themselves the “Gun Violence Table” — and they may indeed see, as I was told, the passage of the “Safe Communities Act” as the door opening a crack. Rinehart spoke on their Wednesday call.

At the White House briefing on Thursday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked — in the wake of Highland Park — about some gun control advocates pushing Biden to go even further.

Noting that the Buffalo, Uvalde and Highland Park mass shootings all took place over the past several weeks, Jean-Pierre said, it’s “the same story that they have over and over again, which is a weapon of war being unleashed on our, in our communities.” She went on to also invoke Orlando, Las Vegas, Sandy Hook.

“It’s assault rifles,” she said.

Durbin, the Senate Judiciary Committee Chair, and Duckworth don’t see how there are votes for an assault weapons ban. Certainly not the 60 usually needed. And if the Democrats who control the Senate do decide to change the rules to lower the number of votes needed to 50, it’s not clear all 50 Democrats would back an assault weapons ban.

The reality is, as of Thursday, the Highland Park mass murders do not open an obvious path to an assault weapons ban.

The Biden White House is not lacking the will to push for an assault weapons ban in the wake of the Highland Park slaughter. But without the Senate votes, they are lacking a way.

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