In the year after Highland Park parade mass shooting, advocacy becomes a way of coping, ‘doing the work they can’t do’

Several people who witnessed last year’s massacre rallied outside the Dirksen Federal Courthouse, where judges heard a challenge to the Illinois assault weapons ban.

SHARE In the year after Highland Park parade mass shooting, advocacy becomes a way of coping, ‘doing the work they can’t do’
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Abby Kisicki stands outside of the Dirksen Federal Building in the Loop after a rally for the ban of assault weapons, Thursday, June 29, 2023. Three federal appellate judges confronted lawyers challenging Illinois’ ban on assault weapons, passed in the wake of the mass shooting in Highland Park that is nearing its one-year anniversary.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Every day for the last year, Abby Kisicki has wondered why she and her parents survived the mass shooting at Highland Park’s Fourth of July parade that killed seven people and wounded dozens of others.

She has gotten through those days by becoming an advocate for gun control, believing she is fighting for “the seven” by “doing the work they can’t do themselves.”

“I find meaning, and it’s how I cope — the advocacy,” Kisicki said outside the Dirksen Federal Courthouse, where judges were hearing arguments about overturning the state’s assault weapons ban. “It could have been me or my parents … There’s no reason the people who died are the people who died. They don’t have a voice anymore. And that is so insulting and so violating.”

That’s what brought her and others from Highland Park to the courthouse.

“We’re coming together, we’re validating each other, and the more we do that, the more we’re able to increase our power,” Kisicki said. “Even though they’re in there, and we’re out here on the street … they’re going to know we are here.”

Kisicki was one of dozens of gun violence prevention advocates who gathered to protest the legal challenge to a ban that was prompted by the Highland Park massacre.

“It is insulting the fact that they’re getting sued,” Kisicki said. “I would say it’s insulting around the year mark, [but] it’s insulting anytime.”

After the shooting, Kisicki felt the need to jump into action but followed her family’s advice and took time to recover. Toward the end of last summer, she started reaching out to other youth advocates and in the fall took on the role of community engagement associate at the Newtown Action Alliance.

Ashbey Beasley, Highland Park survivor and activist after a rally for the ban of assault weapons outside of the Dirksen Federal Building in the Loop, Thursday, June 29, 2023. Three federal appellate judges confronted lawyers challenging Illinois’ ban on assault weapons, passed in the wake of the mass shooting in Highland Park that is nearing its one-year anniversary.

Ashbey Beasley, Highland Park survivor and activist after a rally for the ban of assault weapons outside of the Dirksen Federal Building in the Loop, Thursday, June 29, 2023. Three federal appellate judges confronted lawyers challenging Illinois’ ban on assault weapons, passed in the wake of the mass shooting in Highland Park that is nearing its one-year anniversary.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Also at the courthouse Thursday was Ashbey Beasley, who has made dozens of trips to Washington and Springfield and spoken to hundreds of lawmakers on behalf of assault weapons bans.

“On July 4 of last year, my 6-year-old son and I ran for our lives after a man opened fire on our hometown parade with an AR-15 style weapon,” Beasley said as she stood with her son. “The most profound thing that I’ve learned over the last 11 months is that we don’t talk about mass shootings in a way that includes the entire impact they have on communities.”

Beasley helped work on the Protect Illinois Communities Act, which was signed into law in January, banning the sale and distribution of assault weapons, high-capacity magazines and devices called switches that turn semi-automatic weapons into machine guns.

It did not take long before a Naperville gun shop owner and the National Association for Gun Rights sued the state.

“This lawsuit is a direct attack on our democracy,” Beasley said. “We elected legislators who supported gun safety legislation. And when tragedy and gun violence hit our state, they stepped up and passed this law to keep us safe. We are not going to stop fighting.”

Robert Bevis, the Naperville gun shop owner who is challenging the law, also was at Dirksen Thursday and said the ban will “stop law-abiding citizens from having these firearms and attack our Second Amendment rights.”

“They are successfully putting me out of business,” Bevis told reporters. “These laws have completely killed our business.”

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Rachel Jacoby, a Highland Park resident and organizer of March for Our Lives, gives a speech outside of the Dirksen Federal Building in the Loop, Thursday, June 29, 2023. Three federal appellate judges confronted lawyers challenging Illinois’ ban on assault weapons, passed in the wake of the mass shooting in Highland Park that is nearing its one-year anniversary. | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Rachel Jacoby, a Highland Park resident and organizer of March for Our Lives, helped plan Thursday’s rally — one of many she has led in the year since the shooting.

“My generation, Gen Z, is sick and tired of living in fear,” Jacoby said. “We’ve grown up in a society where gun violence is a daily occurrence and haunts us everywhere we go. We cannot sit in our classrooms, go to the bank, dance in a club or attend our Independence Day parade without wondering if we will be the next victims of gun violence.”

When a speaker asked the crowd, ‘Who has lost someone to gun violence,’ nearly everyone raised a hand.

Kisicki said she does not want to attend a memorial event in Highland Park because she spends every day remembering.

“It’s my reality already,” she said. “I think about it so much. We all do. It’s added this heavy layer to our community that will never quite be gone. We always think about it.”

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