This week’s blog is written by Dion McGill, SCY Communications and Community Outreach Manager.
Long before I was a part of the gun violence prevention movement, I was just a teacher.
Initially, I taught in Alaska. Interior Alaska. Rural…Interior…Alaska. Tok, AK to be exact, with a population of 1200 people. Guns are a part of daily life in Alaska. I love the great outdoors and would take frequent hikes on the weekend. When I did so, even I carried a gun (a borrowed revolver from a coworker’s husband). In a place where huge swaths of the people rely on subsistence hunting, and also where you have very real threats from animals, guns are simply another part of daily life. We would have a parent who would drop their child off to school every day, and he’d come into the building with an empty holster, which made me uneasy, but certainly wasn’t out of what felt ordinary there.
Once I asked a colleague, “Does he always carry around an empty holster?”
“No! He usually has his gun in it. Can’t bring it in here, of course, so he sticks it under his driver seat. We all do.”
I must admit that I, born and raised in the city of Chicago, was absolutely amazed at this way of life. There is always the great debate as to whether greater access to guns results in greater gun violence.
However, I was very shocked and dismayed to later learn that Alaska led the country in gun related deaths per capita. In fact, Alaska has led the nation in gun-related deaths per capita from 2014 to 2017.
Now when I came to Chicago to teach, gun violence felt like a common stream of life and conversation. Many of my students would be witnesses to shootings at the local park, or hear gunshots while in their home. I even had a few students shot, all non-fatal fortunately. But it was something that I, as a social studies teacher, made a point to discuss with my students in my class. How can you ignore something that felt like it loomed so large over all of our heads?
That is why it felt like such a natural fit for me to transition into the Program Manager position at the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence. It was there that I was introduced to the then Gun Dealer Licensing Bill, later to become the Gun Dealer Certification Bill, that was being worked on.
If you’re not familiar with the discussions around where guns found in Chicago streets come from, go check out the City of Chicago Gun Trace Report.
That bill was signed by Gov. Pritzker in January of 2019.
But it took a long time. I helped work on it for only three years, but it had been worked on in one iteration or another for well over a decade.
This bears to question why does seemingly good and needed policy take so long?
Well, of course, opinions on good gun policy vary regularly, but personally I immediately reject the ideology that people should have unfettered access to guns, without a background check or any fail safes in place.
For example, on Feb 15, 2019, a shooting at the Henry Pratt Co. in Aurora IL. highlighted several issues with current Illinois gun policy. Years before, it was discovered that the shooter had a previous violent felony conviction, and should not have been able to buy, or remain in possession of the firearm that he used for the shooting. WBEZ recently did an excellent article highlighting all of the issues, and better yet, what has been done in the wake of the Pratt Co. shooting.
And this raises the question as to what we can do to better facilitate the changes needed to make our streets safer. Well, I think one of the key things needed is more people involved. We need more people to call, write letters, and even take the train ride (or drive) to Springfield to look eye to eye to our elected officials, and tell them that we need them to do action now, not later, that will make sure that those people deemed to dangerous to own a firearm don’t have them.
As I summed up in this week’s SCY Newsletter:
One year after the shooting tragedy in Aurora, many in Illinois are wondering what has changed to prevent another such event. The BIO Bill, pending in the Illinois Senate, would strengthen prevention efforts by closing the loopholes in the Firearm Owner Identification (FOID) system and by requiring background checks on all gun sales. Though the bill did not make it to the Governor’s desk last year, sponsors are hopeful that it will move forward this session. To learn more and to take action, visit https://gvpaction.com/bio-bill/.
I encourage you to sign up for the SCY Policy Update here so you know when we need those calls, letters, or trips to happen alongside our colleagues across the city working towards the same goals.