U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., told Mayor Rahm Emanuel Tuesday to “be real” in response to the mayor pointing a finger at South and West side community members after a weekend of horrific gun violence in their neighborhoods.
Speaking at a press conference in Chicago to champion anti-gun legislation he introduced a decade ago, Rush accused Emanuel of “sitting behind the big desk on the fifth floor, blaming the victim.” Emanuel’s office is on the fifth floor at City Hall.
Rush was referencing Emanuel’s Monday comments in which the mayor asked Chicagoans to blame gunmen, not Chicago police, for the violence plaguing their neighborhoods. In all, a total of 71 people were shot — 12 of them fatally, between Friday and Monday. That makes this past weekend the city’s worst for gun violence so far this year, and one of the worst weekends in recent years.
“Don’t think for a moment people don’t know who in the neighborhood was responsible,” Emanuel said on Monday, pleading for witnesses to come forward with information.
Rush spoke Tuesday alongside U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill. Both pointed to disinvestment in neighborhoods as a factor in the rampant violence.
“There’s no one answer to gun violence, it starts with economic justice,” Duckworth said. “We have young people who don’t see a future beyond high school . . . they become vulnerable to a culture where their hopes and ambitions are frustrated and they end up on the streets where waving a gun around is a norm of behavior and that it’s ok to settle fights with gunfire.”
But both also emphasized the need for federal gun legislation like the Blair Holt firearm licensing bill, first introduced by Rush in 2007, which would require universal background checks for gun purchases and establish a federal record of sales. The bill is named after a Julian High School student who was killed after shielding a friend when a gunman opened fire on a CTA bus in 2007.
“We need to pass the Blair Holt licensing bill to stop the flow of guns into Illinois from neighboring states with weak firearm laws . . . in Chicago we are flooded with guns from outside of the state,” Duckworth said.
Rush said Duckworth’s decision to also introduce the bill in the Senate makes him more optimistic that it might pass.
But Congress has refused to pass any significant gun control in the wake of several shooting massacres, and there is no indication the Republican leadership will bring any new gun legislation to a vote before the midterm elections.
“The House remains paralyzed in the headlights of the NRA,” Rush said.
“This is sensible,” Duckworth said. “We’re not taking away anyone’s second amendment. We’re just asking people to get a FOID card.”
Rush and Duckworth spoke in front of a group of young adults and community members at the Gary Comer Youth Center on the South Side, several of whom lost a 20-year-old friend, Jessica Finister, to gun violence two weeks ago.
“It was probably one of the hardest things our school had to experience ever, she was such a dedicated member and all she did was laugh and smile,” Jamiya Smith, 19, said of her friend. “It was very hard to see her go.”
Rush and Duckworth joined in watching a tribute video the group made in memory of their friend.
Blair’s father, Ronald Holt, a police officer who has advocated for gun regulations since his son’s passing, called on community members to demand political action and call their elected officials.
“We need a tracking system, there are too many guns getting into the hands of the wrong people. You know it, and we know it,” Holt said. “It’s a good and balanced, common-sense gun bill that we hope will be the spark that will light the flame of consciousness for more of our elected officials.”
Rush also raised the question of gun violence to candidates running in 2018 and 2019.
“In November of this year, and as we approach February of next year, the question has to be answered by those who intend to lead this state and this city,” Rush said. “What are you gonna really do about the guns, the violence, the epidemic that we’re facing in our city?”