Week after Highland Park July 4th parade massacre, activists head to D.C. to push assault weapons ban

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a July 20 hearing on the Highland Park slaughter; HP Mayor Nancy Rotering to testify.

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A woman hangs up a ribbons at a vigil at Sunset Woods Park in Highland Park, Illinois, on Thursday, July 7, 2022. Over a thousand people gathered to listen to music and guest speakers and have a moment of silence for the seven victims of the mass shooting during the July 4th parade in Highland Park.

A woman hangs up a ribbons at a vigil at Sunset Woods Park in Highland Park, Illinois, on Thursday, July 7, 2022. Over a thousand people gathered to listen to music and guest speakers and have a moment of silence for the seven victims of the mass shooting during the July 4th parade in Highland Park.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

WASHINGTON — A week after the Highland Park July 4th parade slaughter by a gunman using an assault weapon, the nation’s latest horrific mass shooting quickly mobilized local activists - with hundreds expected here this week to push for an assault weapons ban.

Meanwhile, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., will hold a July 20 hearing on the Highland Park massacre, with Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering among those to testify.

And on Monday morning, the White House will hold a ceremony to mark President Joe Biden signing into law on June 25 the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, a gun measure containing provisions to make schools safer, flag mental health problems of potential gun purchasers and increase the federal penalty for straw purchasers. It’s considered historic because it’s the first gun bill in some 30 years to become a law.

But in the wake of the Highland Park slaughter — coming weeks after the Uvalde and Buffalo shootings, spurring a critical number Senate Republicans to get on the compromise bill — the White House event may also serve to highlight how almost impossible it is at this time to get an assault weapons ban passed. The votes in the Senate are not there.

The HP shooter used a Smith & Wesson M&P15 semiautomatic rifle. In a minute he killed seven people, wounded dozens of others and traumatized an unknown number of people. The slaughter reignited calls for the Illinois General Assembly and Congress to pass assault weapons bans.

Among those expected at the White House on Monday: Gov. J.B. Pritzker; Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle; Durbin; Rotering, Highland Park Police Cmdr. Chris O’Neill and state Rep. Bob Morgan, D-Deerfield.

Rotering told the Chicago Sun-Times on Sunday she is asking for a moment of silence at 10:14 am CT on Monday to mark the time the shooter started pumping at least 83 bullets into the holiday crowd on the Central Avenue parade route.

While Highland Park deals with multiple aspects of the aftermath — from tending to the victims to grappling with the reality that accused killer Robert Crimo III slipped through the state of Illinois “red flag” warning system to keep weapons out of the hands of people who might be violent — a new activist movement is taking root.

Organizations calling for Congress to take measures to prevent gun violence were born after gun slaughters in Sandy Hook and Parkland and, sadly other places. Spawned from tragedy, now Highland Park is likely to have one too.

Kitty Brandtner, 35, lives in Winnetka and is the mother of three young kids. She is a senior director at Lasalle Network, a recruiting firm. She quickly organized a group -— its name is “March Fourth” — a reference to taking action going forward.

As of Sunday night, there were 7,681 followers on the Instagram page of the group.

Earlier on Sunday, some 40 people — part of this new network — were on a Zoom call planning the “March Fourth Enough” event on Wednesday. I’m told that about $120,000 has been raised for travel expenses and some 500 are expected at the Capitol Hill rally at First Street N.E. and C Street N.E. It’s a block from the Capitol.

“I was tired of feeling helpless and trapped as an American citizen raising kids who aren’t safe in schools, at concerts, at parades,” Brandtner said in a statement. “I just wanted to stand together, scream at the top of our lungs and beg for real change.”

Leah Israel, a Democratic fundraiser and consultant who is a founding partner of Magnify Strategies — and a graduate of Highland Park High School — is helping organize meetings on Capitol Hill this week with members of Congress and Highland Park activists who will be in DC.

And speaking of lobbying in Washington ... the national headquarters of an influential political action committee, the Joint Action Committee for Political Affairs, is on the third floor of a Highland Park building a few blocks from the site of the July 4th parade massacre.

After the Monday slaughter, a woman stopped by JACPAC’s office, wanting to quickly put together a memorial on Central Avenue and needing a few things. JACPAC focuses on several issues, with one of them for the past 10 years — since the Sandy Hook school shootings — preventing gun violence.

Said JACPAC executive director Marcia Balonick, who was at the parade with her children and grandchildren, “We had the signs. We had the T-shirts. We had the orange ribbons.”

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