The question over how to address the nation’s problem with gun violence was the focus of a roundtable discussion held by 10th Congressional District U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider Thursday.
On the heels of impassioned testimony heard one day prior by former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords at a hearing held by the U.S. Senate’s Judiciary Committee, Schneider called for universal background checks on gun purchases as well as a ban on assault weapons.
Despite renewed public support for stricter gun laws in the aftermath of such tragedies as the one in Newtown, Conn., and more recently with the shooting death of 15-year-old Chicago native Hadiya Pendleton, Schneider acknowledged such changes were still likely to face strong opposition by gun rights advocates.
“We won’t get this overnight,” Schneider said. “For all the pain that we see, and continue, to see this is not going to be a march downhill, it is definitely a march uphill, but we all need to do it together.”
Joining Schneider for the discussion was Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, Illinois Chapter Leader for the Million Mom March whose sister and brother-in-law were killed by gun violence. She feels confident that tougher gun regulation would pass this time around given the amount of public sentiment surrounding the issue of gun violence.
“America has been changed by this latest Sandy Hook [Elementary school] tragedy,” Bishop-Jenkins said. “Just like 9-11 changed us, we are going to finally do something about gun violence in this country.”
Also participating in the roundtable were Wheeling Police Chief William Benson, North Chicago Mayor Leon Rockingham, Family First of Lake County Executive Director Evelyn Chenier, local business and gun owner Skip Robertson, National Alliance for Mental Illness Executive Director Nancy Carstedt, and Illinois Brady Campaign board member Tom Vanden Berk.
“In the 10th Congressional District you’re not going to be hounded constantly,” Vanden Berk told Schneider. “But if you’re in another area, like Southern Illinois, and you vote the wrong way according to what the NRA’s stance is, there will be people threatening you; they will be at your door. There is an incredibly organized political force to keep you voting correctly according to their standards.”
Rockingham said there is momentum for tougher gun control laws, but also pointed out that a compromise must be reached to ensure that fewer guns are on the street and the rights of responsible gun owners are not threatened.
“We’re not trying to take guns from people that are using them in a proper way,” Rockingham said. “We’re just making sure that they are registered, and if there is an incident, that we are able to trace that gun back.”
As Schneider indicated, the push toward stricter gun control will be difficult, with the chances of passing significant federal legislation, such as the plan unveiled last month by the White House doubtful.
Data from the FBI shows the number of gun deaths has fallen in recent years, dropping from 10,225 in 2006 to 8,775 by 2010.
But the U.S. still has one of the highest murder rates of any developed country, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, which found that in 2008, 67 percent of homicides were the result of gun violence. By comparison, the rate in Japan was 1.8 percent, 5.8 percent in the United Kingdom, and 26 percent in Germany.
Here is more from Schneider, Rockingham and Bishop-Jenkins on the issue: