By Hannah Shapiro
The shooting at Highland Park’s Fourth of July parade killed seven people and injured dozens more. In the month following the shooting, community members, activists and local politicians have committed to preventing such violence from impacting other communities, focusing their efforts on pushing for state and federal bans of assault weapons.
Susan Isaacson: It was, it was horrible. It was horrific.
HIGHLAND PARK RESIDENT SUSAN ISAACSON WAS AT THE FOURTH OF JULY PARADE WITH HER FAMILY WHEN THE UPTOWN CELEBRATION TURNED INTO A BATTLEFIELD.
Isaacson: I think maybe five minutes into it, six minutes into the parade, I said to Casey, my grandson, oh, they’re doing fireworks. And with that, I hear people screaming and running towards me. And I’m thinking, oh my God, it cannot be. It can’t happen here. It can’t, I can’t believe it’s happening.
SUSAN TOOK HER TWO GRANDCHILDREN AND RAN.
Isaacson: As we were running, I hear people screaming that people are dead, people are in the street. They’re bleeding. We ran into this new winery that opened in St. Johns. He had about 40 people in there, and unbeknownst to me later on, there were 16 people downstairs in the basement in a one-stall bathroom. He ended up giving us water, and people were screaming and crying. And I couldn’t find my daughter.
SUSAN’S DAUGHTER HAD GONE TO FIND HER IN-LAWS. THE FAMILY WAS SEPARATED FOR 10 MINUTES BEFORE REUNITING AT THE WINERY, WHERE THEY SHELTERED IN PLACE.
Isaacson: I was shaking. I couldn’t, I couldn’t believe it. I literally could not believe this was happening. I didn’t know where to go. We didn’t know where to go because we didn’t know if there were many shooters or one shooter. He locked us in the back, and about an hour later we were allowed to leave through the back door, but we could only go east.
AUTHORITIES HAD BLOCKED OFF ROADS TO CONTAIN THE SCENE AND CHECK FOR EXPLOSIVES. SUSAN HAD PARKED NEARBY, SO THEY RAN TO HER CAR, DROVE HOME EASTWARD AND TURNED ON THE NEWS.
SEVEN PEOPLE WERE KILLED IN THE MASS SHOOTING. TWO DOZEN OTHERS WERE INJURED.
Isaacson: These are people that honestly went out with their children or their grandchildren for a nice parade that we do, I’ve done it for 35 years. And it’s just, you don’t expect this to happen.
FOR SUSAN ISAACSON, THIS MUCH IS CLEAR.
Isaacson: I feel that we need no military weapons to be sold. No one needs those. And I hope to God, something happens in Washington.
ILLINOIS HAS SOME OF THE STRICTEST GUN LEGISLATION IN THE United States GIFFORDS LAW CENTER TO PREVENT GUN VIOLENCE GAVE ILLINOIS AN A- ON ITS ANNUAL GUN LAW SCORECARD AND RANKED IT EIGHTH OF THE 50 STATES FOR GUN-SAFETY STRENGTH.
EVEN SO, GUN VIOLENCE HAPPENS HERE EVERY DAY. THERE ARE GAPS IN THE LAW. ONE OF THOSE GAPS IS THE ACCESSIBILITY OF ASSAULT WEAPONS.
[Footage from U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary on July 20] Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering: Less than a minute is all it took for a person with an assault weapon to shoot 83 rounds into a crowd, forever changing so many lives
ACCORDING TO THE GUN VIOLENCE ARCHIVE, THERE HAVE BEEN 399 MASS SHOOTINGS IN THE UNITED STATES IN 2022. THE DEADLIEST AMONG THEM, BUFFALO, UVALDE AND NOW HIGHLAND PARK, EACH UTILIZED ASSAULT WEAPONS.
HIGHLAND PARK HAS HAD AN ASSAULT WEAPONS BAN IN PLACE SINCE 2013. A LOCAL BAN WASN’T ENOUGH TO STOP SOMEONE FROM BRINGING AN ASSAULT WEAPON TO THEIR PARADE.
IN THE THREE DAYS FOLLOWING THE SHOOTING, MORE THAN 25,000 PEOPLE SIGNED A CHANGE.ORG PETITION IN SUPPORT OF PASSING HOUSE BILL 5522 TO BAN ASSAULT WEAPONS IN ILLINOIS. TO DATE, THAT NUMBER HAS INCREASED TO MORE THAN 78,000 SIGNATURES.
HOUSE BILL 5522 WAS INTRODUCED IN JANUARY BY STATE REP. MAURA HIRSCHAUER. UNTIL JULY 7TH, THE BILL HAD ONLY ONE CO-SPONSOR. FOLLOWING THE HIGHLAND PARK SHOOTING, ANOTHER 55 REPRESENTATIVES HAVE CO-SIGNED, THE FIRST OF WHOM WAS REP. DENYSE WANG STONEBACK OF ILLINOIS’ 16TH REPRESENTATIVE DISTRICT.
Stoneback: I’m absolutely in support of an assault weapons ban and a ban on high-capacity magazines. These are weapons of war that were designed to kill efficiently as many people as possible in the shortest amount of time. And whenever we see mass shootings with assault weapons involved, or large-capacity magazines, the death toll and the injury toll is much higher.
ACCORDING TO RESEARCH FROM EVERYTOWN FOR GUN SAFETY, FROM 2009 TO 2020, “MASS SHOOTINGS THAT INVOLVED AN ASSAULT WEAPON ACCOUNTED FOR 25 PERCENT OF ALL MASS SHOOTINGS DEATHS AND 76 PERENT OF INJURIES. WHILE NOT USED IN THE MAJORITY OF MASS SHOOTINGS, WHEN THEY WERE, IT LEFT SIX TIMES AS MANY PEOPLE SHOT PER INCIDENT THAN WHEN THERE WAS NO ASSAULT WEAPON.”
Stoneback: I think that it is very important for us to pass an assault weapons ban and a ban on large-capacity magazines, but we need to keep in mind that assault weapons are really account for as little as 3% of all firearm murders. It’s one piece, but if we address that, in itself, we’re not necessarily addressing many other issues that that exist
Editor’s note: Stoneback’s team clarified that “assault weapons were involved in as little as 3% of all firearm murders. It’s one piece, but if we address only that, in itself, we’re not necessarily addressing many other issues that exist.”
THERE ARE CURRENTLY SIX GUN CONTROL BILLS THAT THE ILLINOIS GENERAL ASSEMBLY COULD ACT ON. TO PASS THE STATE ASSAULT WEAPONS BAN AND OTHER GUN CONTROL MEASURES DURING THE VETO SESSION WOULD REQUIRE A SUPERMAJORITY IN EACH CHAMBER, 36 VOTES IN THE SENATE AND 71 VOTES IN THE HOUSE.
Maureen Westphal: Enough is enough. We cannot have these weapons of war in civilian hands.
MAUREEN WESTPHAL IS THE LEGISLATIVE COORDINATOR FOR MARCH FOURTH, AN ADVOCACY GROUP FORMED IN THE AFTERMATH OF THE HIGHLAND PARK SHOOTING BY MOMS WHO CONNECTED ON SOCIAL MEDIA.
Westphal: We have been working with families from Uvalde, Texas, and Highland Park. When we went to D.C., we went with a simple message: We need to federally ban assault weapons now.
MARCH FOURTH IS ORGANIZING TO SUPPORT BILLS THAT DO JUST THAT, LIKE HOUSE BILL 1808.
Westphal: We mobilized, we met with members of Congress, we had thousands and thousands of phone calls into some of the leadership offices, asking them to schedule a vote and trying to encourage members of Congress to support the bill when it reached the House floor. We were very excited to see when it was scheduled for a markup in the House Judiciary Committee.
THE LAST TIME CONGRESS PASSED AN ASSAULT WEAPONS BAN WAS 1994, WHICH EXPIRED DUE TO A 10-YEAR SUNSET PROVISION. ON JULY 29TH, HOUSE BILL 1808 PASSED THROUGH THE HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE AND WAS REPORTED TO THE HOUSE FOR A FULL VOTE.
[CSPAN footage of House Bill 1818 House vote] Speaker Nancy Pelosi: On this vote, the yays are 217, the nays are 213. The bill is passed.
Westphal: What happened in the House was a historic step. And a month ago, we were told that this was impossible. And we don’t believe that it is.
THE NEXT STEP IS THE SENATE. SENATE BILL 736 HAS 38 CO-SPONSORS. IT NEEDS 60 TO PASS.
Westphal: So we are going to be strategic in our approach in the Senate, just as we were in the House. We have so many supporters on our side. We have public opinion on our side, majority of Americans want this. And so we will be talking to senators, we will be talking to Senate leadership and encouraging them to schedule a vote.
A JUNE 2022 SURVEY CONDUCTED BY MORNING CONSULT AND POLITICO FOUND THAT 68% OF VOTERS SUPPORT STRICTER GUN CONTROL LAWS. FIFTY-FOUR PERCENT OF REGISTERED VOTES SURVEYED STRONGLY SUPPORT BANNING ASSAULT STYLE WEAPONS, AND ANOTHER 12% SOMEWHAT SUPPORT A BAN.
Westphal: This is not a political issue. We are primarily just asking senators to vote their conscience. It’s always been an uphill battle. And it shouldn’t be.
SUSAN AND HER FAMILY ARE PROCESSING WHAT THEY EXPERIENCED ON JULY FOURTH.
Isaacson: It’s been hard. It’s been hard. I went to a group therapy once and never been to a therapist, but it helped a lot. And then I went to the high school, which was wonderful. The FBI was there, the police, and they were wonderful with the kids. I talk a lot. I talk about it because if I don’t, I could cry.
AND THEY’VE BEGUN TO FIND HEALING IN THE SUPPORT THAT HAS FOLLOWED.
Isaacson: My husband and I walked uptown on Saturday night. And there were people from all over, like not even from the Chicago or Highland Park area, from other parts of the country. And it made me feel really good that we have a community like this. I don’t know if I’ll ever go to a parade again. But I do, I do feel safe.
FOR MEDILL REPORTS IN HIGHLAND PARK, HANNAH SHAPIRO
Hannah Shapiro is a Video and Broadcast graduate student at Medill. You can follow her on Twitter at @_hannah_shapiro.