We Must Do Better – LA Times

Five years on, we’re still waiting for Sandy Hook to change the gun debate


Five years ago today, Adam Lanza shot and killed his mother in Newtown, Conn., then took two semiautomatic handguns and a semiautomatic rifle from her cache of firearms to massacre 20 children and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Of course, people declared at the time, such a tragic, senseless event would be a turning point. Surely a slaughter of innocent children would be too much even for the National Rifle Assn. and its adherents, and finally Congress would act to ban civilian possession of the guns of war.

Nope. Since the Sandy Hook massacre, there have been five more mass shootings in which at least a dozen people were killed, and 15 other attacks in which at least four people died — for a total of 273 killed and 645 wounded, nearly all with legally obtained semiautomatic weapons. Even the horror of a heavily armed man raining bullets from the 32nd floor of Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay hotel in October into a packed concert site has not moved the needle on what this nation will tolerate.

We are at the sick juncture at which the mass murder of civilians with military-style weapons… has become part of our national identity.

At the moment, we are at the sick juncture at which the mass murder of civilians with military-style weapons not only no longer surprises, but has become part of our national identity. We even market the grief. You can walk down the Vegas Strip and find souvenir shops selling T-shirts with the slogan “Vegas Strong,” echoing the “Boston Strong” meme that cropped up following the marathon bombing in that city in 2013.

What then will it take? It is shameful that we do not force our elected representatives to act on this, and instead allow them to do the bidding of the powerful gun lobby and the companies that profit from this endless scourge of bloodletting. On average, 42 people are killed by guns (not including suicides) and 86 wounded a day.

Today, when we see breaking alerts of an active shooter, we immediately track the body count while ticking down a list of questions: Was it terrorism by some religious extremist, or — more often, such as the massacre last month of 26 people in a Texas church — the lashing out by a hate-filled American male? Were the guns bought legally? How about the background check? We drill down into the minutiae — how many firearms did he have? How many bullets fired? Were there are any warning signs that might, had they been picked up on, averted the tragedy?

Such details are important, but the question that really needs to be answered is how such a wealthy, sophisticated country let itself get trapped in this cycle of madness. The body count includes children, parents, grandparents. Straight people. Gay people. Men. Women. White, black and Latino. All the ethnicities that compose America, and all shot dead going about their daily lives — school, work, church, play. These atrocities occur even as violent crime across the country has steadily declined for the last quarter of century.

The country needs a saner approach. There is no reason for most Americans to possess weapons designed for war. There is no excuse for gun manufacturers who engineer their way around regulations (through bump-fire stocks like the one the Vegas gunman used to fire his semiautomatic rifles as though they were machine guns and “bullet buttons” that undercut a law intended to slow down mass shooters). Congress needs to mandate universal background checks with no carve-outs for private sales or other dodges. There needs to be a program for removing existing weapons from people who can’t be trusted with them.

This is a public health crisis, but instead of responding, we let a strict interpretation of the 2nd Amendment guide our policy and we allow the NRA to define our political battles. We offer thoughts and prayers for the dead but nothing for the living so that they can escape a similar ending. We tolerate this state of affairs, which makes us all morally culpable for the slaughters of the future. We can’t keep on this way. We must do better.


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.