Rep. Bill Foster at Naperville forum: Congress must act to end gun violence

Rep. Bill Foster says the nation has reached a point where it can no longer ignore gun violence.

In addition to the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas and Parkland, Florida, the Naperville Democrat says there's daily reports of people of all ages and backgrounds being murdered by guns.

"The numbers are truly staggering," he said. "Every year in America, over 30,000 people are killed by gun violence. The gun homicide rate in the U.S. is by far the highest of any developed nation."

Foster, who represents the 11th District, says there must be a discussion about "common-sense" gun reforms that Congress can pass. He hoped to begin the conversation Monday night with a forum at Yellow Box Community Christian Church in Naperville.

The event, attended by roughly 200 people, featured a panel made up of students, a public health official and a gun violence victim's family member.

"I believe that Congress has a fundamental responsibility to take action," Foster said, "and that there are common-sense reforms that we can adopt to make it harder for these violent events to be carried out."

The forum was held nine days after the March for Our Lives protests that were organized in response to the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that left 17 students and employees dead. In addition to those demonstrations, high school students across the country also walked out of classes on March 14.

Both teenagers who participated in Monday night's forum - Rohan Chakrabarty and Jacob Baron - helped organize the walkouts at their schools.

Chakrabarty, a senior at Metea Valley High School in Aurora, said he noticed an increased sense of polarization in the wake of Parkland. He said he wants individuals on both sides to work together to prevent another mass shooting.

"The solution is not black-and-white," Chakrabarty said. "The solution will come when all individuals are united and all individuals understand that we're under this one banner of change."

Baron, a senior at Naperville North High School, said he believes effective change should include banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. He also wants a thorough system of background checks.

"Perhaps our most critical responsibility is to voice our individual opinion through our right to vote," Baron said. "For the first time in my lifetime, I can legitimately foresee a future which - through voicing our popular opinion - (we) can change our country's gun culture."

Another panelist was Marsha Lee of Blue Island. She talked about how her 20-year-old son, Tommy, was shot and killed during a botched robbery in Harvey in 2008.

She said people need to become outraged to stop gun violence.

"It keeps happening, and there's no reason why we're living this way," Lee said. "I know we don't have to live this way. I know we can do better. I know we can do something to save lives."

While the audience quietly listened when the panelists made their presentations, there were some disruptions during the Q&A session.

Several people heckled when Foster responded to a question about the Second Amendment. Later, someone submitted a question asking about the one-sided nature of the event. That question went unanswered.

The event ended with Foster saying he hopes common ground can be found.

He said he supports a ban on assault weapons, expanded background checks, and "a host of gun safety legislation that's pending in Congress but not allowed to have a vote."

"Our ability to achieve progress on these issues will be a direct result of your voices," Foster told the crowd. "It's been heartening to see people across the country just say, 'Enough is enough.'"

  Rep. Bill Foster, left, hosts a public forum to discuss gun violence at Yellow Box Community Christian Church on Monday. Dr. Karen Sheehan, who works in Lurie Children's Hospital's Illinois Violent Death Reporting System; Marsha Lee, whose son was killed by gun violence; and students Rohan Chakrabarty, Metea Valley High School senior, and Jacob Baron, Naperville North High School senior, comprised the panel. Photos by Mark Black/
The forum organized by Rep. Bill Foster, a Naperville Democrat, to discuss gun violence drew about 200 people to the Yellow Box Community Christian Church in Naperville on Monday.
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