Wearing the names of victims, we had been in the Capitol all day talking with legislators about gun violence. Then, in our bright orange CRS shirts, four hundred of us gathered in the rotunda to pray and testify—and die. I looked up and saw another hundred people in orange shirts standing around the rail on the second floor.
As several youth, along with a couple of legislators, read the names of the 435 people who died in Chicago in 2012 because of gun violence, the people in the rotunda lay down on the hard marble floor. They were dying—symbolically—to dramatize the terrible toll that handgun violence is taking in our communities.
I looked up again. There were no orange shirts. The rail was empty. One minute they were there, and then they were gone.
As I stared up at the empty rail, I realized that’s the way death by handguns comes. One minute a sister, best friend, school mate, or neighbor from around the corner is right there beside you. And the next, there’s a blast of gun fire, and the person is gone.
Everyone in Springfield is talking about guns this spring. Most of the debate has been about a new conceal-and-carry bill, mandated by the Illinois Supreme Court, and a ban on assault weapons.
Of course we mourn the loss of life in Newton, Aurora, and other places across the country, and many of us think that banning assault weapons is a really good idea. But we also know that handguns account for most of the gun deaths—murder and suicide—in the United States.
Most of those guns were bought legally but then have passed into the hands of gang members, members of hate groups, and others who are likely to do damage to themselves or other human beings. Illegal handguns plague our streets, destroy families, disrupt schools, and cause almost all of the gun deaths in Chicago.
Finding a solution to gun violence is complex and multi-layered. Most of us feel powerless in the face of the magnitude of this problem. What can we possibly do to bring positive change to this dreadful situation?
We have to do what we can. Pray a prayer. Attend a vigil. Talk to a legislator. Sign a petition. Develop a safe-passage plan for school children. Contribute to a violence-reduction program. Advocate for legislation that can make a difference.
Legislation is one of things that we’re working on at the Community Renewal Society. We believe that three things will help keep legal guns out of the hands of criminals: universal background checks, gun titling, and reporting lost and stolen weapons.
There will likely be one “big” gun bill passed by the General Assembly in this session. Therefore, our community leaders and policy advocates at the Community Renewal Society are urging legislators to make sure that any gun legislation that is called for a vote includes these three regulations.
Don’t delay. The legislative session will end soon, but gun trafficking won’t—unless we take action and make our voices heard.