July 21, 2022

Duckworth and Rotering give emotional testimony at Senate gun panel

Source: Crain's Chicago Business


Highland Park Mayor Nancy R. Rotering on Wednesday took her call for a federal ban on assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines to the Senate Judiciary Committee in a hearing room filled with North Shore officials and residents still reeling from the Fourth of July mass shooting that left seven people dead and many others injured.

“The most disturbing part [is] this is the norm in our country,” Rotering said. “Highland Park had the uniquely American experience of a Fourth of July parade turned into what has now become a uniquely American experience of a mass shooting. How do we call this freedom?”

Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, who is not a member of the committee and testified as a witness, talked about a recent incident in which, while addressing the class of her daughter Abigail, she noticed that her other daughter, Maile, was participating in an active-shooter drill at their school.

“My heart broke as I watched my little girl who was taught to crouch down, with her head against the wall, covering her head, with her hands in their secure location,” Duckworth said. “Knowing full well that a shooter with an AR-15 coming in there, she would not have a chance no matter what her crouching position was.”

The senator added, “America’s heartbreaking new normal, where we routinely ingrain in our children the traumatizing fear that at any moment they could be gunned down in their classroom, should not be acceptable to any one of us.”

The hearing called by Democratic Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, focused on the July 4 Highland Park incident and drew several officials from Highland Park and elsewhere in Lake County, including state Rep. Bob Morgan, D-Deerfield, Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart, Lake County Board Chair Sandy Hart and Highland Park City Council members, Adam Stolberg, Andres Tapia, Michelle Holleman and Annette Lidawer.

Durbin showed pictures that included 2-year-old Aiden McCarthy, who lost both of his parents, Kevin and Irina, as well as 8-year-old Cooper Roberts, who was hit by bullets and has faced multiple surgeries.

“The attack in Highland Park was the 309th mass shooting in America this year,” Durbin said. “There have been 47 more mass shootings since the Fourth of July. This is a crushing number when you consider its reflection on life in America. And it is disgraceful that we have done so little to stop it. Too often the weapons that are used our military-style assault weapons, designed to kill large numbers of people in a matter of seconds.”

Republicans on the Judiciary Committee pushed back on the idea of banning assault weapons as the solution to mass shootings.

“As horrific as these incidents are, one of the object lessons of what happened in Highland Park is, the strictest gun laws in the nation did not prevent this terrible act,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. He referred to what he said were 836 homicides in Chicago last year.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said “everyone in this room wants to prevent the next mass murder,” but he urged targeting “the bad guys,” including fugitives, felons, and those with serious mental illness and prosecuting them when they try to buy guns.

He said Illinois has the strictest gun control laws in the nation but “almost without exception, they have high crime rates and the highest murder rates.”

Later, Durbin rankled at the standard GOP talking point about Chicago gun violence. He said that he wanted to recognize that “Chicago is not Highland Park,” prompting applause from the Lake County residents in the hearing room.

“I am proud to represent both communities,” Durbin said. “The gun violence problem in Chicago is a serious one, but much different than the shooting incident that occurred on July 4th that brings us together today.”

Rotering said Highland Park was “still a community trying to figure out the next step to healing.”

The most important step moving forward, she reiterated, was removing legal access to assault weapons by civilians.

“There is no place for these weapons,” she said. “I appreciate, and share a deep concern about the gun violence issues in the city of Chicago, and all of our nation’s large cities, and frankly elsewhere. But at the end of the day, today's hearing is about how do we reduce mass shootings. We reduce mass shootings by getting rid of combat weapons in civilian hands.”