Biden White House throws spotlight two days in a row on Illinois assault weapons ban

Biden’s praise only goes so far, because the Illinois experience — where Democrats hold supermajorities in the Legislature — cannot be replicated in most other states.

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Thousands join a community walk in Highland Park on Tuesday, one of many events marking the one-year anniversary of the July Fourth mass shooting.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

WASHINGTON — For two days in a row, the White House has thrown a spotlight on how Illinois passed an assault weapons ban after the Highland Park shooting a year ago, urging other states to follow its lead.

But that praise only goes so far because the Illinois experience cannot — at this time — be replicated in most other states.

Turn that spotlight around and the glare magnifies how little at this point the Biden administration can do when it comes to curbing gun violence — even with mass shootings piling up in the year since the slaughter at the July 4, 2022, parade in the northern suburb left seven dead and at least 48 others injured.

On Monday night in Philadelphia, a gunman killed five people; in Baltimore on Sunday, a block party shooting left two people dead and 28 wounded.

I could go on, but you get the gist. Chicago continues to grapple with chronic gun violence. Over the July Fourth weekend, according to a Sun-Times tally, 73 people were shot, 11 fatally, at incidents that “began and ended with mass attacks,” with about half the people shot in Deering, Englewood and Chicago Lawn.

In 2023 alone, according to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 357 mass shootings, defined as a “minimum of four victims shot, either injured or killed, not including any shooter.”

A year ago — on July 5, 2022 — Vice President Kamala Harris — in Highland Park — standing at the intersection of Central and Green Bay Road, about a block away from the epicenter of the violence — paid a condolence call and made the case for a federal assault weapons ban.

But that was when the Democrats still controlled the House of Representatives.

The political climate is more dismal when it comes to Congress and any gun legislation since the Republicans took the House last November.

After the 2022 shootings in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York, enough Senate Republicans backed a measure that passed the Democratic House so that for the first time in about 30 years, Congress passed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which Biden signed on June 23, 2022.

It contained provisions to make schools safer, flag mental health problems of potential gun buyers and increase the federal penalty for straw purchasers. It would probably never pass today’s GOP House.

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden in a statement noted the most recent shootings and then focused on Highland Park, “one year since a shooter armed with an AR-15-style weapon fired upon” the crowd at the parade.

“In the year since, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering, legislative leaders, and numerous advocates, and gun violence survivors have fought tirelessly to turn the pain of Highland Park and other acts of gun violence into meaningful action on behalf of all Illinoisans. This past January, they succeeded in banning assault weapons — like the one used in Highland Park — as well as high-capacity magazines across Illinois.

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President Joe Biden has highlighted Illinois’ assault weapons ban as a model that other states could emulate. But most other states don’t have strong Democratic Party control over the governor’s office and legislatures.

Associated Press

“I urge other states to follow Illinois’ lead, and continue to call upon Republican lawmakers in Congress to come to the table on meaningful, commonsense reforms that the American people support.”

At the top of the Wednesday briefing, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre talked about how Biden, the day before, marked the anniversary of the Highland Park tragedy by highlighting how last year, Pritzker, Rotering, [state] legislative leaders and numerous advocates and gun violence survivors “fought tirelessly to ban assault weapons like the one used in Highland Park, as well as high-capacity magazines across Illinois. But as we have seen over the last few days, there’s a lot more work to do to address the epidemic of gun violence.”

I asked Jean-Pierre about the Biden call for other states to follow the Illinois lead — noting that most other states do not have, as does Illinois, not only a Democratic governor, but a supermajority Democratic state House and state Senate.

A reason we “lift up states like Illinois,” she said, is that “it’s important to highlight and to show that states can also get involved and make change.”

That’s what a White House says — look to the states — when it’s clear that Republicans in Congress will block any meaningful federal legislation to curb gun violence

After Biden’s two dozen or so gun-related executive orders on guns — and the GOP not budging in the face of endless slaughters, Biden is stalemated. Deeply Democratic Illinois is an exception, not the rule. Said Jean-Pierre, for now, Biden “has done everything that he can. We’re always looking to do more.”

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