COLUMN: Summer Is Coming, Illegal Guns Are Spiking — Why Are Lawmakers Waiting?

COLUMN: Summer Is Coming, Illegal Guns Are Spiking — Why Are Lawmakers Waiting?

By Kathleen Sances – President, Gun Violence Prevention PAC Illinois – May 12th, 2011

We see it every summer in Chicago. The weather gets warm, we spend more time outdoors, and gun violence spikes. Even last summer, during a stay-at-home order.

In fact, especially last summer: between Memorial Day Weekend and Labor Day Weekend 2020, Chicago had 1,884 shooting victims, a 75% increase over 2019. Last July was our most violent month in 28 years, with 107 people killed, mostly by gunshot wounds. That includes 7-year old Natalia Wallace, shot while celebrating the Fourth of July.

A 7-year old, killed by guns, while observing Independence Day — it’s become the all-too-familiar American tragedy.

But this year, with summer still coming, we’re headed for worse.

We’ve already seen a 30% spike in shooting victims in the first four months of 2021 compared to 2020. And a 55% spike in homicides. That includes Jaslyn Adams, a 7-year old shot while waiting in a McDonald’s drive thru — yet another all-too-familiar American tragedy less than one year after Natalia.

Worse yet, over the past year our illegal gun problem has spiked. According to data compiled by Jens Ludwig at the University of Chicago Crime Lab, in 2020 illegal gun carrying jumped 110% over 2019.

This time last year we knew our gun violence epidemic was bad, but we did not know how much worse it would become.

So what are lawmakers in Springfield waiting for?

Earlier this year, a statewide coalition of gun safety advocates including survivors, faith leaders, and law enforcement officials, reassembled to pass the Block Illegal Ownership and Fix The FOID (BIO) Bill.

This legislation fixes our FOID system, clearing up the backlog for those seeking guns legally. It closes loopholes to keep guns out of the wrong hands. It puts more money into critical mental health programs.

And after clearing the Illinois House two years ago, we expect the bill to again pass swiftly out of the House this month.

In the Illinois Senate, we have 28 co-sponsors who have publicly committed to passing the BIO and Fix the FOID bill which includes mandatory fingerprinting for all FOID cards, universal background checks and resources to ensure the enforcement program is fully functional:  

Sen. Ram Villivalam

Sen. Elgie R. Sims, Jr.

Sen. Omar Aquino

Sen. Jacqueline Y. Collins

Sen. Julie A. Morrison

Sen. Laura Fine

Sen. Ann Gillespie

Sen. Bill Cunningham

Sen. Emil Jones, III

Sen. Robert Peters

Sen. Cristina H. Pacione-Zayas

Sen. Laura M. Murphy

Sen. Mattie Hunter

Sen. Patricia Van Pelt

Sen. Sara Feigenholtz

Sen. Robert F. Martwick

Sen. Karina Villa

Sen. Laura Ellman

Sen. Cristina Castro

Sen. Adriane Johnson

Sen. Antonio Muñoz

Sen. John Connor

Sen. Celina Villanueva

Sen. Melinda Bush

Sen. Michael E. Hastings

Sen. Suzy Glowiak Hilton

Sen. Napoleon Harris, III

Sen. Kimberly A. Lightford

Before the weather gets warm and shooting numbers get worse, our elected officials in Springfield must do their most important job: keeping our kids safe. Firearms are the leading cause for children and teens in Illinois.

Our kids deserve a future, but so many are dying.

And before spring ends, a critical deadline looms — on May 31st, session comes to a close.

That’s why the time is now for lawmakers to act and pass the BIO and Fix the FOID bill.

Before summer comes.

As the Lake County State’s Attorney, I am honored and humbled every day to lead the fight against crime, and to strive to ensure equal and just treatment under the law. I have been an attorney for twenty-two years – and each of those years has made me a stronger and smarter advocate for people, for ideas, and for the principles that unite us all.

I am so proud to lead an office of 140 dedicated colleagues who serve the public by prosecuting crime, advocating for victims, and planning crime prevention programs. I am also proud to work with hundreds of Lake County police officers on a daily basis to connect with every community and to develop comprehensive, holistic plans to respond to the mental health and economic crisis that arose from the COVID-19 pandemic.

On one particular day, July 4, 2022, I was saddened, inspired, and motivated by the bravery of so many people. We will always stand with the victims and honor the police and other first responders who ran toward the danger. Just as so many heroes that day thought only of themselves, I also witnessed the prosecutors in my office answer the call to serve survivors and their community – even on one of its darkest days.

Every moment that I have been your legal representative, I have worked tirelessly to oversee prosecutions and to implement policies that make my family and my neighbors safer in the short term and in the long term. That is the job of the State’s Attorney: to prosecute, to innovate, and to strategically plan.

I was raised in a small town. My parents are teachers, and from them, I learned that everyone must be treated equally and that America’s sacred mission is to provide a political, economic, and legal system that allows anyone to prosper regardless of the circumstances of their birth. After graduating from Knox College and the University of Chicago Law School, I spent two years at a first-rate civil law firm in Chicago where I learned that hard work and attention to detail on every case mean the difference between success and failure.

With my wonderful wife Stephanie, I am raising my two sons, Sam and Teddy, in Lake County. Nothing is more important to me than my family’s safety and I bring that passion and determination to protect all families with me to work every day.

I joined the Lake County Public Defender’s Office in 2003 and started my own law firm in 2009. From 2003 until 2020, I watched the Lake County legal system fail to prioritize violent crime, prevent wrongful prosecutions, or address racial disparities.

So, in 2019, I decided to run for State’s Attorney so that I could serve our community by improving a local legal system that cared more about covering up its mistakes and biases than uncovering new and innovative ways to help people.

I won the 2020 election, and became the first Democrat to hold this position in 40 years. Bringing in a new party wasn’t as important as ending 40 years of one mindset that had forgotten the people and that had failed to act urgently to develop new strategic plans to prevent crime while also ensuring that each prosecution is smart, moral, and just.

We have followed through on our promises. We have built the first-ever violent crimes unit, increased prosecutors in our domestic violence division, and vastly upgraded our cyber lab. Now, we have top-notch software and personnel to finally keep up with those who would exploit others.

We have been awarded a large federal grant to bring the first ever Human Trafficking Task Force to Lake County. We have deepened our investment in people by bringing in more victim specialists and raising the salaries of many of our prosecutors.

But the work goes on. We must expand our prevention efforts that are starting with the Gun Violence Prevention Initiative launched in 2022. And we know that the opioid crisis touches thousands of lives throughout this country.

I am proud to serve on the Executive Board of the Lake County Opioid Initiative which has been working tirelessly since its founding in 2012 to reverse a devastating trend of increased overdoses. In 2022, our office was part of a national settlement against opioid manufacturers and distributors.

As an attorney of 22 years, I have committed my life to helping people, and I have conducted over 70 jury trials in Lake County, and handled appeals that have culminated in over 20 oral arguments before the appellate court and Supreme Court of Illinois.

I see my time in this office as the next phase of helping a community that I love and where I have chosen to raise my family. In my first term, we have made Lake County safer and fairer through just prosecutions, constitutional policing, and innovative crime prevention policies.