Speaking Out: It's time to make gun violence prevention a priority

  • Elliott Hartstein

    Elliott Hartstein

Updated 3/31/2021 6:32 PM

Time to elevate gun violence prevention -- not just at the White House but around the country.

The tragic shooting on Colorado was horrific. It grabbed the news cycle and headlines like mass shootings always do. Yes, the House had recently passed a universal background check bill, and a bill to close the Charlottesville loophole and forwarded them to the Senate. But now what?


President Biden showed his outrage at the Colorado rampage and urged the Senate to pass the House bills; he further suggested we should see Congress pass an assault weapons ban and that some executive orders on gun violence prevention were imminent. But now what?

We have seen this movie before. It just seems like a sequel to "Response to Gun Violence, the Movie." But now what? We seem to have seen reruns of this sequel after every mass shooting that grabs our attention, whether it be Columbine, Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, the Pulse Night Club, Aurora (both of them), Parkland and so many more. One would have thought we would have seen some action in Washington by now. Many say the he NRA is so powerful and pours so much money into so many political coffers that they make it too hard for many in Washington to muster the needed political courage.

But the NRA is bankrupt and their influence has been dwindling compared to groups like Moms Demand Action and other grass-roots organizations that have become more visible and work both at the state level and in Washington.

Nonetheless, though, progress has been made in some states, we still seem to run up against a wall in Congress.

I know that President Biden said that politics is the art of the possible, and that timing is everything in deciding what to prioritize. But when is the right time to act? Was it not when we saw schoolchildren gunned down and the national outrage that ensued? Apparently not, since we saw lots of hopes and prayers, but not real policy change, notwithstanding T-shirts to the contrary. We need more than T-shirts.

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We need a recognition that gun violence is more than mass shootings grabbing our attention. We need more people to understand that gun violence goes on each day and affects people in communities all over the nation. We have people who are a threat to themselves and use a gun to take their own lives. We have domestic violence where people use guns to kill or maim or threaten spouses or family members. We have gangs that take to the streets and use guns to avenge rival gangs, resulting in the deaths of innocent victims. We have hate groups that grab guns to threaten and intimidate people of other races, ethnic groups or religions. We have individuals with their own personal prejudices who do likewise. We have addicts who use guns to help them try to address their addictions. We of course have criminals who brandish guns to assist them in their criminal ways. We have gun owners who fail to safely store their weapons, resulting in accidental shootings by kids. We have more guns in our country than in any other country on the planet. We probably would have fewer deaths if we had fewer guns like some other countries, but our Second Amendment -- as interpreted by our Supreme Court -- gives us the right to acquire and possess them. What the Supreme Court has not said is that there cannot be reasonable rules and regulations and limitations on that acquisition and possession.

Some things to address gun violence prevention are easier to deal with than others. Trying to ensure that people with criminal histories or those with mental illness are not able to purchase guns can be accomplished through more comprehensive background checks, or through red flag laws to get guns out of the hands of those who have threatened others or who are threats to themselves. Though people may want to hunt for recreation, do they really need military-style assault weapons? It is hard to rationalize the need for everyone to have a right to possess such guns.

Other gun issues are more complex like, urban gun violence, and some of the conditions that contribute to the environments where this violence festers. As some cities have successfully adopted programs, we may need to see more community-based outreach programs where outreach workers mentor young people at highest risk for violence, and connect them to job and educational opportunities. Having a better understanding of some aspects of gun violence as a public health menace may also help to formulate solutions and reforms.

For those who suggest that it is a slippery slope, and that any reasonable restrictions will only lead to taking away everyone's guns, that idea needs to be debunked. Advocates for reforms are looking to create a safer situation for all -- not to take guns away. For those who suggest new laws and reforms will not stop all wrongful shootings, they must understand and appreciate that if we reduce and mitigate those gun injuries or deaths we are creating safer neighborhoods around the country. Of course, there a bad guys who are going to get guns, and inflict harm, but in a society like ours where guns are pervasive and in such large numbers, we would be remiss if we do not take reasonable steps where we can save lives and reduce injuries from guns.


To ensure that meaningful action is taken on gun violence prevention, President Biden needs to be encouraged to elevate the issue. The scope is widespread and has languished significantly for too many years. Though the President may have many issues on his plate, since there are so many aspects of this issue that cut across many Departments, and since the issue goes well beyond reacting to mass shootings, the issue demands ongoing attention to not only legislation, but to programs to deal with many facets of gun violence prevention, and gaining an understanding of unique gun violence issues in different parts of the nation. We must all urge the President to prioritize attention to gun violence prevention, by creating a point person in the White House to focus on this issue and work with all states on enhancing gun violence prevention measures, work on an interagency approach on developing programs and recommendations, and work with Congress on passage of legislation like those bills already passed by the House and sent to the Senate. We may also want to consider a national sales tax on all guns to help pay for needed programs to deal with gun violence prevention. Universal background checks to ensure that guns are not sold to people who should not have them as included in one of the bills previously has found bipartisan support -- and should hopefully find support to get it to the President's desk. We must also be strong advocates for state action like bills pending in Springfield to Ban Illegal Ownership/Fix the FOID Bills to require background checks for all gun sales in Illinois and require fingerprinting for getting a Firearm Owner ID card. Getting state action will ensure better safety while waiting for more comprehensive national action. We should not have to wait until the next tragedy to start an ongoing response to gun violence. It is going on every day, all around us in many ways, and every day of delay can only lead to more deaths and injuries.

Let's start saving lives today!

• Elliott Hartstein of Northbrook is an attorney and former Buffalo Grove village president.

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