At Highland Park massacre Senate hearing, Republicans on Judiciary panel reject assault weapons ban

When gunfire started at the July 4 parade, Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering testified Wednesday, “Adults stared back, not comprehending. But the kids knew immediately this wasn’t a drill and they yelled to everyone to run and hide. They knew what was happening.”

SHARE At Highland Park massacre Senate hearing, Republicans on Judiciary panel reject assault weapons ban
Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering recounts what happened during a mass shooting in her city at 4th of July parade during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about the shooting and civilian access to military-style assault weapons.

Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering recounts what happened during a mass shooting in her city at 4th of July parade during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about the shooting and civilian access to military-style assault weapons.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The kids, who had been through active shooter drills, comprehended right away what was going on at the July 4th parade, Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering said Wednesday, the lead-off witness at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing titled “After the Highland Park Attack: Protecting Our Communities from Mass Shootings.”

The hearing vividly demonstrated the staggering partisan divide on the matter of an assault weapons ban.

The Republicans on the committee who spoke at the hearing — Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa; Sen. John Cornyn and Sen. Ted Cruz, both of Texas, and Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee — saw absolutely no reason to put any curbs on the sale of assault weapons.

They just do not want to take assault weapons out of the equation when it comes to figuring out a solution to a very specific issue within the complex matter of respecting gun rights while battling gun violence — mass shootings carried out with military-grade assault weapons.

Sen. Dick Durbin, along with Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering behind him, at news conference following a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the Highland Park July 4 parade massacre. They are flanked by officials from Highland Park and Lake County.

Sen. Dick Durbin, along with Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering behind him, at news conference following a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the Highland Park July 4 parade massacre. They are flanked by officials from Highland Park and Lake County.

Lynn Sweet/Sun-Times

Rotering served double duty, in a sense: she led the drive for Highland Park to pass an assault weapons ban in 2013, and then, as fate would have it, she was at the parade.

She was marching with City Council members along Central Avenue when a gunman on the roof of a store overlooking the parade started to shoot. The assault weapon he was using sprayed 83 bullets into the crowd in less than a minute, killing seven, wounding dozens and leaving an untold number of people traumatized — maybe, Rotering said, “forever.”

When the rat-tat-tat sounds of the gunfire rang out, “Adults stared back, not comprehending. But the kids knew immediately this wasn’t a drill and they yelled to everyone to run and hide. They knew what was happening.”

Rotering and a large contingent of officials from Highland Park, Lake County and surrounding suburbs, people who were at the parade and activists long engaged in organizations working to reduce gun violence filled the large Hart Senate Office Building room.

Before the hearing, Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering, Sen. Dick Dubin, D-Ill., the Senate Judiciary Committee chair, and Lake County Sheriff John Idleburg chatted.

Before the hearing, Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering, Sen. Dick Dubin, D-Ill., the Senate Judiciary Committee chair, and Lake County Sheriff John Idleburg chatted.

Lynn Sweet/Sun-Times

The hearing was called by Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who, with Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., and Rotering all pleaded for Congress to pass an assault weapons ban.

Said Duckworth, an assault weapons ban “would not prevent sportsmen from continuing to access more than 2,000 models of powerful hunting rifles. … it won’t stop a parent from teaching their child to shoot with a .22 – like my daddy did with me when I was just seven years old.”

Rotering described in detail the damage these bullets caused: hot shrapnel melting into the arm of a woman; the closed casket of a man whose head was hit with the high velocity ammunition. She talked about Cooper Roberts, the eight-year-old with the shredded esophagus, ripped liver and severed spinal cord.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., at a news conference after a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on assault weapons following the July 4 parade massacre, holds up a picture of a child holding an assault weapon.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., at a news conference after a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on assault weapons following the July 4 parade massacre, holds up a picture of a child holding an assault weapon.

Lynn Sweet/Sun-Times

Since the July 4 massacre, Highland Parkers have come to Washington for a White House ceremony marking President Joe Biden signing the first gun reform bill in some 30 years, passed only because of mass shootings in May in Uvalde and Buffalo; a rally and march outside the Capitol plus White House and Capitol Hill meetings.

Before this Wednesday hearing they were meeting with friendly, sympathetic, like-minded people — Democrats, like most of them — and all supporters of an assault weapons ban well before, to their horror, a mass shooter hit at home.

On Wednesday the Highland Parkers and their allies saw and heard for themselves the GOP resistance.

The Republicans brought up homicides in Chicago. Tragedies in Chicago take place every day; the Highland Parkers understand the gun conversation sweeps in more than one suburb. On July 4, at Parkway Gardens on the South Side, five were wounded in a mass shooting.

However — bringing up Chicago’s ongoing struggle with gun violence in this context, seemed a tactic intended to change the subject and deflect from the matter at hand — ending the legal sale of assault weapons to civilians.

Those Republicans also cited the Sunday Indiana shopping mall shooting that left four dead where an armed citizen who happened to be there shot the gunman. Republicans are using that to make the case more people should be armed — which also avoids dealing with the matter of banning battlefield weapons.

To this point, Durbin asked Rotering, “How much we can count on a good guy with a gun” in an assault weapon attack.

“We had good guys with guns on site who were trained who got there within seconds,” Rotering said, but it was hard to figure out the the location because bullets were ricocheting off of walls in Port Clinton Square and witnesses where offering different accounts of the gunman’s location.

It was the GOP suggestion that assault weapons are only “inanimate objects” that led to Durbin’s other push back: “I wonder how that logic applies to grenade launchers? We don’t we allow those to be legally sold to Americans. They are just inanimate objects.”

Said Rotering, “Highland Park had the uniquely American experience of a Fourth of July parade turn into what has now become a uniquely American experience of a mass shooting. How do we call this freedom?”

At a news conference after the hearing, state Rep. Bob Morgan, D-Deerfield, whose district takes in Highland Park, noted the Illinois General Assembly in Springfield still needs to pass “significant gun reforms in Illinois.”

As for the Chicago-bashing Republicans, Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart, whose office is prosecuting the Highland Park shooter, said, “I heard these references to Chicago and these references to street violence — as if these things are not all related.” The response to the “urgency of gun violence,” should be, Rinehart said, “investing in communities everywhere.”

FOOTNOTE: Later on Wednesday, Rotering met with Attorney General Merrick Garland, a Chicago native raised in Lincolnwood.

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