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Mayor Rotering Addresses DuPage County Board

DuPage County Board 2 EditedOctober 25, 2022 -- Mayor Nancy Rotering was invited to discuss the impact of gun violence on our community following the Fourth of July Parade shooting at the Tuesday, October 25, 2022, meeting of the DuPage County Finance Committee as they considered passing a resolution pertaining to restrictions on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. This meeting included all members of the board.

Immediately following the Finance Meeting, the DuPage County Board Meeting was held, where the DuPage County Board voted unanimously to amend its 2022 state and federal legislative agendas to support legislation banning the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

The Board voted to request both the Illinois General Assembly and the U.S. Congress to enact legislation banning the sale of assault weapons and the sale of high-capacity magazines. The Board resolution further calls for legislation mandating safe storage of firearms, reforming the Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) card process, requiring training related to the sale or possession of a firearm, and increasing criminal penalties for certain gun offenses, including armed habitual criminal, unlawful use of a weapon, aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, possession of ghost guns, and for unlawful sale of a ghost gun.

Mayor Rotering delivered the following prepared remarks before participating in a Q&A.

Good morning, Finance Chair Chaplin, and members of the DuPage County Board Finance Committee. Thank you for inviting me to discuss what happened in Highland Park on the Fourth of July and how we can work together to stop gun violence in our communities.

My name is Nancy Rotering. I am the Mayor of Highland Park. While my town is in Lake County, we know that a single city or county cannot protect its residents from mass shootings because none of us are islands within the state.  But if we can make it that much harder for someone intent on committing a community killing spree to obtain a weapon with the impact and speed of the one used in my community, we have taken a step in the right direction.

The Highland Park Fourth of July Parade is a beloved tradition. Like so many American cities and towns, we truly celebrate our patriotism and hometown pride. While we were thrilled to host this event once again, especially after missing our time together due to the pandemic, 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 human bodies as quickly as possible.

For the last four months, we have individually and collectively experienced unbelievable grief. We read about mass shootings, but until it arrives in your front yard, the magnitude of devastation that we know from the US Department of Justice will last for years, if not decades, is truly incomprehensible.

It still doesn’t feel real, but we remember and honor the seven individuals who were taken too soon, and we keep the more than four dozen injured, so many still trying to physically recover from these devastating and complex wounds, and their families in our thoughts.

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, learning about living forever more in a wheelchair with PTSD. He said on his first day back? “If I hadn’t been shot, if I hadn’t been paralyzed, if I hadn’t been in a wheelchair, it would have been a perfect first day of school.” Think about that - eight years old. It 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 independence. Our story includes the Toledo family, all seventeen of them, who directly experienced what happened to their grandfather’s head when he was hit by high velocity gunshot.

As we well know, this uniquely American problem has resulted in a long list of communities that have shared this trauma. With frustrating regularity, as recently as yesterday, shooters using assault weapons and large-capacity magazines wreak terror, agony and carnage throughout our nation in major cities, suburban towns, and even rural areas. Shooters strike churches, grocery stores, movie theaters, concerts, schools and main streets. We know from conversations with the US Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime, the impacts of this one minute, will last for years, decades, lifetimes.

There is no roadmap to tell any of us what to do when something of this magnitude hits home, but it is the decisions that we make followed by the actions we take that illustrate who we are and what we can do. If there is even one step that we can take to save another life and keep another town from enduring this kind of pain, we have an obligation to try. We know that no community is immune to gun violence. Among American mayors, and I know there are some former mayors in this room, there is the common refrain of “not if, but when” a mass shooting will come to our communities. I cannot sufficiently convey to you the horrible, sick feeling of getting the call that a mass shooting has happened in your community.

And what is 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 as a society?

This shooting was a reminder that action against the gun violence epidemic is needed now; frankly, it’s overdue. I join you today because I promised my community as their mayor, as their neighbor, as a parent, as a child of Highland Park, as a human being - I will not stop trying and I ask you to join me today, right here, right now.

Many of you might remember, 34 years ago, in 1988, a woman entered Ravinia Elementary School in Highland Park, Illinois with a gun and explosives. Her name was Laurie Dann and after attempting to set off an explosive in the school, she then drove to nearby Winnetka where she shot five children in their school, killing eight-year-old Nicky Corwin. I tell this story because we know that over the years, the decades, those who could, did not do enough to improve gun laws.

In 2013, the Highland Park City Council and I passed an ordinance that banned assault weapons and large capacity magazines. We exercised a temporary option, a 10-day window, provided in the newly enacted Illinois Concealed Carry Firearm Act to ban assault weapons and large capacity magazines. We then fought the NRA all the way to the US Supreme Court, where we prevailed. Our case set a precedent that makes it constitutional for Illinois cities, towns, and counties to ban assault weapons and large capacity magazines.

Unfortunately, the Illinois General Assembly did not see the need to allow that opportunity to extend across the state, allowing other cities to take that Constitutional action if they chose to, or even better, enact a state-wide ban. We are now pursuing those legislative initiatives, but a message from all of us needs to be sent that we need help. Our communities need help.

Our local ordinance reflected our community’s values, and we did what was feasible under existing law at that time. But what community doesn’t value public safety and protecting human life?

I recognize that restricting access to assault weapons does not stop all gun violence but banning weapons of war is one common-sense step we can take. It is worth it even if just one life is saved. Combat weapons are built for combat and have no place on our streets. And while we need a Federal Assault Weapons Ban, we as elected representatives need to take any action that we can to move this effort forward. Our constituents deserve better.

Congress passed its first major piece of gun reform in 30 years last June, which was a first step to reducing the threat of violence across our country. We saw another glimmer of hope when the US House of Representatives passed HR 1808, The Assault Weapons Ban of 2022. This bill now moves on to the Senate, but this is a long process and we do not have time to wait.

Cook County has had an assault weapons and large capacity magazine ban for years. In August 2022, the Lake County Board officially passed a resolution supporting both state and federal laws that will ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Because Lake County is not a home rule county like Cook County, it is precluded from passing an outright ban. We are seeing similar resolutions being passed among other governing bodies in Illinois and elsewhere.

Now is the time to act. You can take another step forward in saving lives. Please add your voices and officially pass the same or similar resolution. Let’s be honest, the debate is not political and is not about whether we are burdening lawful gun owners with new regulations. These regulations have been determined to be constitutional and have constitutionally existed in the past under the ten-year federal assault weapons ban. The debate we should be having is whether we are taking common sense steps to save lives, to preserve our public’s safety, health, and human rights. Let’s call these mass shootings for what they are: terrorism, and they are not ok.

I have been having conversations with representatives at all levels of government, Governor Pritzker, and our federal representatives and agencies. I am encouraged that these leaders share the values of our town, recognize that protecting the safety and well-being of every human life is paramount, and understand that we as a community are scarred. They stand with Highland Park, and they are already helping us as we navigate a path forward.

I urge you, do not make assumptions about your constituents. According to Gallup, the majority of Americans support a ban on assault weapons. They recognize the very real threat these combat weapons pose to our daily lives.

For some reason, we as a nation have become inured to shootings. We say “oh, that was terrible for that community. Sending thoughts and prayers.” The impact of this event, this one-minute event, will last a lifetime. This is not freedom, this is not the America we grew up in, and I don’t remember when we took a vote to say that living with this threat of violence is ok. It is not ok. 

I know each of you understand the necessity to act and I ask that you join us. Thank you for turning thoughts and prayers into action.