Just over two months since the mass shooting at Highland Park’s July 4 parade where seven people were killed and many others injured, Moms Demand Action New Trier Township — a branch of the nationwide gun safety activist group — has been working with local governments to enact change at state and national levels.
Governmental bodies in Glencoe and Wilmette have taken on the issue with resolutions calling for changes in state and national gun safety laws.
At their Sept. 15 village board meeting, Glencoe trustees passed a resolution calling for the state and federal governments to take measures the village believes will stem gun violence, including a ban on semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity ammunition cartridges and magazines.
Other parts of the resolution stated the village would like to see stronger background checks and so-called “red flag” laws and the mandating of safe storage as a condition of firearm ownership.
“Our gun problem requires national solutions or at minimum, statewide solutions,” Village President Howard Roin said.
Roin said he recognizes he and the village trustees were not elected to their local government roles based on political views on national issues such as gun rights, but recent events are bringing the gun safety issue to the forefront.
“One of the principal responsibilities of the village board is public safety. The massacre in Highland Park has made it crystal clear — if it wasn’t clear already — that none of us are going to be safe until we get a handle on guns and gun violence,” Roin said.
A similar resolution was passed during the Wilmette Board of Trustees meeting on Sept. 13.
“It is clear we have a public safety crisis,” said Trustee Justin Sheperd. “We cannot be under the illusion that it can’t happen here. It happened in Winnetka in 1988. It happened in Highland Park on July 4 and it happens in Chicago just about every day.”
The topic was also listed on the agenda for the Monday, Sept. 19 Kenilworth village board meeting as well as the Tuesday, Sept. 20 Winnetka Village Council meeting, which was scheduled to start just after this newspaper’s publication deadline.
While many of its neighboring communities have been exploring its gun laws, Glencoe’s efforts toward gun safety are different as the village has “non-home rule community” status, meaning it needs specific authority from the state to enact firearm regulation laws, according to Village Attorney Steven Elrod.
“Glencoe’s ability to solve the gun problem is very limited,” Roin said.
The village board passed the resolution one evening after trustees met as the Committee of the Whole, allowing residents to share their views and what they would like to see done in terms of gun laws.
“We have to register our pets …. we have to register our cars, why shouldn’t we have to register a firearm that can cause more damage than all of those things combined?” asked resident Allison Shaewitz.
Resident Myles Mendoza said he believed that most mass shooters were lonely men who could benefit from social contact.
“They’re isolated, they are oftentimes disenfranchised from their communities,” Mendoza said.
He called on residents to continue to reach out to all people.
“In the list of the things that we can control, I think we can make sure we can provide the most welcoming community so that we don’t have isolated, lonely individuals who are seething with hate on the internet getting trapped in their own echo chambers,” Mendoza said.
Village trustees spoke of a starting point in terms of the overall gun safety discussion at the local level.
“This is step one,” noted Trustee Jonathan Vree. “We have to take step two and three so people don’t feel like they are helpless and we are doing something.”
Members of Moms Demand Action, adorned in red shirts, have spoken at each of the meetings requesting changes in the face of the recent gun violence, such as greater education about red flag laws and registration of weapons.
Members of the group were also in attendance at the Sept. 13 Wilmette Board of Trustees meeting and the Aug. 22 New Trier Township High School Board of Education meeting.
“I’d like you to imagine that tonight, in an alternate universe, Congress somehow managed to pass every law that has been suggested lately to curbing gun violence,” said Sara O’Hare at the Wilmette Village Board meeting. “We would still have 350 million guns, at a minimum, in our closets and in our communities.”
One of the group’s leaders, Lauren Harper, has three children and has been concerned about the issue since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012.
“I would drop them off at school and every day I would kiss them and they would get out of the car. As soon as the door would shut after I would say to them ‘I love you,’ every single day I would play the words in my head ‘don’t get shot’, ” Harper said.
The chapter began three years ago and currently has reached about 2,500 members, according to Harper. Those numbers increased following the Highland Park shooting, she said.
The group — which covers Winnetka, Wilmette, Glencoe, Northfield and Kenilworth — has been focusing on safe gun storage and the impact guns have on teen suicide rates.
In 2020, suicide was the third leading cause of death in teens aged 15 to 19 according to the Centers for Disease Control. For those aged 10 to 14, suicide is the second leading cause of death. The CDC also reports that a gun is involved in nearly 53% of suicides in the United States.
“The concern is, right now, teen suicide is through the roof. And if people aren’t locking up their guns and there are mental health issues that are left over from COVID, there are just so many things that are coming together to create this perfect storm,” said Harper.
Daniel I. Dorfman is a freelance reporter with Pioneer Press.
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