Local response to gun violence

By STATE SEN. KWAME RAOUL (D-13)

In the face of unspeakable tragedies like the massacre of teachers and schoolchildren in Newtown, Connecticut, we all experience a desire to honor the dead, assist the survivors and protect our own children. And when we recall that acts of senseless violence take place every day on the streets of Chicago, we are outraged. Out of compassion, sadness and anger we understandably seek out the perfect solution that will stem the tide of violence.

Unfortunately, when elected officials legislate in reaction to a particular incident with its own unique fact pattern, the result is often a piecemeal and ineffectual treatment of a complex, multi-faceted threat. Last week the Illinois Senate considered a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines such as the ones used in the Sandy Hook shooting. The controversy over this proposal ultimately generated more heat than light, bringing our state no closer to tackling the problem of gun violence.

Banning one type of weapon or another is an easy solution but fails to address the root causes of violence. We need a comprehensive approach to the violence that occurs every day in our inner-city neighborhoods and throughout our state, particularly in disadvantaged areas. There is no quick and cheap substitute for investing the necessary resources in proven violence prevention programs that offer alternatives to youth at risk of joining gangs. And it is ironic that while we discussed an assault weapons ban last week, we failed to restore funding for the community mental health services that could prevent another Newtown massacre and provide treatment to individuals prone to violent behavior.

Guns increase the human toll of violence. But our approach to violence must be systemic and pragmatic, calculated to prevent dangerous people from obtaining assault weapons that make it easy to do mass harm. We must do a better job of tracking firearms, passing commonsense gun regulations and enforcing them consistently.

A mere three days before the Newtown shooting, a federal appeals court delivered an ultimatum to the Illinois legislature: lift the state’s near-total prohibition on bearing arms in public places, or in 180 days all carrying restrictions will be invalidated. We have serious work ahead of us to craft gun laws that satisfy the court’s interpretation of the Second Amendment yet keep our residents — particularly our children — safe. Like it or not, those of us who deplore the effects of readily available guns must now begin a conversation with gun rights advocates. We will achieve a better outcome and do more to prevent violence in the future if we do not allow our first reaction to be our final offer.