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Illinois lawmakers have a moral obligation to pass gun safety bill

Assault rifles on display. These weapons of war don’t belong on our streets, state Rep, Maria Hirschauer writes.

Assault rifles on display. These weapons of war don’t belong on our streets, state Rep, Maria Hirschauer writes.

AP Photos

Before I was a state representative, I was a volunteer and community leader with Moms Demand Action. My work with that organization informs my daily commitment to making sure that no parent drops their children off at school and fears they might not see them alive again, and that no person looks for active shooters in the grocery aisle, church pew or parade route.

When I took office, I promised to honor the lives lost and changed by gun violence with action — the action that drove me to run for office in the first place. It is why I filed HB5522 back in January. After the mass shooting in Highland Park, I recommitted myself to banning assault-style weapons and large capacity magazines.

I am proud to co-sponsor the new gun reform package that will keep Illinois on the path to leading the nation in gun safety. The Protect Illinois Communities Act Is a logical, necessary step to reduce the harm caused by gun violence. Now more than ever, we must see change. We owe it to all whose lives have been irreversibly touched by gun violence.

Opinion bug

Opinion

More than 110 Americans are killed by guns each day, and the wide availability of high-capacity assault weapons extends this danger beyond reason. I respect the right of Illinoisans to bear arms and protect their families, but no one needs to wield a weapon capable of firing 30 bullets in 10 seconds to feel secure in their home. There is no reason for assault weapons, whose sole purpose is to kill efficiently and effectively, to be available in Illinois. Yet these weapons of war have made their way onto our streets and into our schools, grocery stores, workplaces and community celebrations. 

Protecting the next generation

Another sad truth is that young people ages 18 to 20 commit gun homicides at three times the rate of those over 21. Far too often, young people suffering from mental illness are able to access weapons that turn their darkest thoughts into a nightmarish reality. Putting killing machines into their hands is reckless endangerment.

Children and teens are actively targeted in the marketing of firearms, despite the gun industry’s clear knowledge of the risk factors of gun ownership by young people. Guns are not toys or video game controllers. It is irresponsible to treat them as such. We must close the loophole that allows young people to obtain firearms before they understand the gravity and potential consequences of that decision. 

Although Illinois’ current laws continue to be weakened by those in neighboring states that refuse to take action for gun safety, we aren’t helpless to fight back. We can reduce the flow of incoming illegal weapons by empowering the Illinois State Police to work with federal and local officials to trace illegal guns and hold straw purchasers accountable. Giving law enforcement the tools and technology to track illegal crime guns while simultaneously strengthening the laws on our books is essential to keep guns out of the wrong hands. 

The ripple effect of gun violence can be felt all across Illinois, from Chicago to Highland Park to Aurora to East St. Louis. The trauma from gun violence is disproportionately felt by Black Illinoisans, who are 32 times more likely than white Illinoisans to die by gun homicide. Guns are the leading cause of death of Illinois children ages 1-17 years old. Throughout the pandemic, Illinois led the country in gun sales, and today there are more guns in Illinois households than ever before, leaving our children at risk. We cannot ignore the fact that the rise in gun violence is related to easy access to firearms.

Children are being killed and families torn apart while lawmakers allow their hands to be tied by the gun lobby. The outsized influence of the NRA has endangered us all for far too long, and it is high time we stood up to their bullying. If legislators have the courage to stand up to the NRA and ban weapons of war from our streets, we can move closer to making Illinois a state where no one has to live in fear of being gunned down in their community.

This goes far beyond partisan politics. We have a moral obligation to fight for this change. 

We’ve reached a flashpoint, beyond which to do nothing is to be complicit in avoidable and unacceptable tragedy. Enough is enough. We must pass the Protect Illinois Communities Act.

State Rep. Maura Hirschauer represents the 49th District.

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