Good morning. Thank you Representative Morgan and members of the Judiciary – Criminal Committee for this opportunity to speak with you about the Highland Park mass shooting.
Let’s talk about what happened just a few months ago. Our Fourth of July Parade is a beloved tradition. While we were thrilled to host this post-pandemic event, our joy was shattered by one young man shooting 83 rounds in under one minute from a legally obtained weapon designed to devastate as many bodies as quickly as possible. Let me repeat: 83 rounds. Under one minute. Legally obtained weapon.
For the last five months, we have experienced unbelievable grief and trauma. It still doesn’t feel real. We remember and we honor the seven individuals who were taken too soon, and we keep the four dozen injured, so many still working to physically recover from these devastating and complex wounds, and their families in our thoughts.
On that day, not knowing if the shooting was even over, brave first responders immediately ran into what looked like a combat zone. They were aided by volunteers, some medical professionals, but most just fellow human beings, fearless in their desire to help stop the bleeding from massive and complex wounds. Without their courage, it likely would have been worse.
Highland Park’s story includes eight-year-old Cooper Roberts, who went to a Fourth of July parade with his family and as a result missed the beginning of the third grade because he was still hospitalized with a severed spinal cord and shredded aorta, esophagus, and liver, learning about living forever more in a wheelchair with PTSD. Think about that - eight years old.
Our story includes two-year-old Aiden McCarthy still asking for his mom and dad, who died shielding their only child during a family outing to celebrate freedom. And, our story includes the Toledo family, all seventeen of them, across three generations, who directly experienced what happened to their grandfather’s head when he was hit by high-velocity gunshot.
In the days that followed, 1,200 people a day streamed into the makeshift Victims Response Center at Highland Park High School, seeking trauma counseling. Hundreds of volunteer mental health professionals offered their services for free. Art therapists worked with those whose words escaped them. Strangers came together on street corners sharing their stories.
And we are beginning to hear not just about the fear of hiding from an active shooter for hours in cramped locations, or the panic of missing children as people ran for cover, but of comfort from strangers, now family, united forever by horror and compassion. Conversations with the US Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime, tell us that the impacts of this one minute will last for years, lifetimes.
Mass shootings are a uniquely American problem. Among mayors and managers, there is the common refrain of “not if, but when” a mass shooting will come to their town. While we experienced unthinkable loss in Highland Park, mass shootings have happened throughout Illinois. They have occurred here in Chicago, in Aurora, in DeKalb, and this year alone also in Zion, East St. Louis, Yorkville, Waukegan, Decatur, Wheeling, Rockford, Crest Hill, North Chicago, Romeoville, Elgin, Joliet, and Peoria. This is a list that should not exist.
Equally concerning, our children talk about “not if, but when.” Our children knew exactly what to do on the Fourth of July because they have been training for an active shooter their entire lives. What does this say about us?
Active shooter drills are becoming mandatory in many places of work. It’s now common to see people making sure they are aware of escape exits at public gatherings. Law enforcement agencies continue to explore alternate strategies to better secure public events. After a mass shooting, businesses are often faced with insurmountable challenges as they try to recover and rebuild with traumatized employees and customers.
Why is it acceptable to expect 12.7 million people to live in perpetual fear that someone with a weapon designed for war might commit mass violence at any moment? Is access to combat weapons more important than living freely in our communities? What civilized nation allows this type of ongoing mass violence, or worse, embraces it as “part of our culture?”
I recognize that restricting access to assault weapons and large-capacity magazines won’t stop all gun violence, but banning weapons of war is one common-sense step we can take. It is worth it even if one life is saved.
You may recall, for ten years, there was a federal ban of assault weapons and large-capacity magazines. During that decade, according to Giffords, there was a 70% drop in mass shooting deaths.
This debate is not about whether we are burdening lawful gun owners with new regulations. These constitutional bans already exist in eight other states and the District of Columbia.
According to Gallup and NORC at the University of Chicago, most Americans support an assault weapons ban. A new poll by Everytown for Gun Safety shows significantly more Illinois voters back an assault weapons ban than oppose it in nearly every region of the state. They recognize the very real threat these combat weapons pose to our daily lives. Just like we don’t allow people to handle nuclear materials, own missile launchers, and so on, these weapons are too dangerous for public access.
Please, help us reclaim our freedom and defend our human right to live. It’s time to turn prayers into action.