Targeting "Bad Apple" Gun Dealers

On Saturday, June 6th, volunteers from Northwest Suburbs Organizing for Action (NWSOFA) traveled to Riverdale to join almost 200 people in protesting outside Chuck's Gun Shop. The protest was organized by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Volunteers from Operation PUSH, People for a Safer Society, and other Chicago-area groups joined the protest. A group called Hoosiers Concerned About Gun Violence came all the way from Indianapolis.

Nearly 20% of the crime guns recovered in Chicago between 2009 and 2013 were originally sold by just four local gun dealers. Shockingly, a single gun dealer – Chuck’s Gun Shop and Pistol Range – was the source of nearly one out of every 12 guns traced to crime in Chicago. Chuck’s is part of the roughly 5 percent of gun dealers around the country that supply about 90 percent of the guns linked to crime. From 2009 to 2013, 1,516 guns recovered in crime in Chicago were traced back to Chuck’s. Nationwide, 2,370 guns recovered in crime were traced back to Chuck’s from 1996 to 2000, the most of any gun dealer in the country. In contrast, more than 85 percent of gun dealers sell no guns used in crime.

Dan Gross of the Brady Campaign introduced Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Michael Pfleger of St.Sabina's Church. He led the group in peaceful protest just outside the front door of Chuck's Gun Shop.

The truly memorable speakers, however, were dozens of mothers, fathers, and children of people killed by gun violence. Their quiet, sincere testimonials brought our chants of "Purpose over Pain" as they turned their grief into action.

Several dozen counterprotestors stood on the property of the gun shop, waiving signs that had obviously been prepared by professionals and shouting insults. What struck me was the pettiness and lack of substance in what they and their signs said: "Chuck's Is Not a Bad Apple," "Guns Don't Kill People, Gangs Do," and the like. They had no argument why Chuck's shouldn't sign the code of conduct that most gun shops have, or why Chuck's should be allowed to continue selling guns to straw purchasers, advising customers how to evade the law, and enabling gun crime in Chicago and elsewhere.

I had several memorable conversations. One was with a woman whose 19-year old son was shot to death. Another was with an older black man who had been in the Marines. He said that after he returned from combat, he had no desire to own or use a gun.

Another of our volunteers said:

Guns have always made me fearful. Protesting outside of a well-known gun shop whose unethical business practices are in question terrified me, however, something inside of me pushed me to go. One activist wore a super hero cape, but the family members of the victims of gun violence were the true heroes of the day. As they shared their stories, embraced the photos of their deceased loved ones, held posters with the autopsy photos of their beloved deceased, and hugged a total stranger like me, they demonstrated what a toll this senseless violence has on the living, as well as the strength they have derived to make something positive occur out of their personal tragedy. I left the rally without fear, but with a new found courage. I was emotionally moved, inspired, and resolved to push on because this movement to make America a country that values life over guns and life over money is alive in all of the family members whose loved ones have lost their lives to senseless gun violence.

ABC-7 News covered the rally. I thought their story was fair, other than underestimating the number of protestors. Even Sean Hannity of Fox News interviewed Dan Gross and agreed with most of what Gross said.

The Brady Campaign did an excellent job of organizing and managing the protest. Several buses came from different areas, including St. Sabina's Parish and Evanston. The organizers had red t-shirts for all with the message "Stop Bad Apple Gun Dealers." The message was clear and consistent. The crowd was multi-racial and multi-ethnic. The organizers had volunteers walk, chant, and eventually sit symbolically on the sidewalk outside the gun shop. Despite high emotions on all side, there was no violence or even threat of violence. This was a model of how to organize an effective protest.

The fact that most gun dealers have signed a code of conduct tells us that common sense and public pressure are winning out over the selfish, irrational shouts of a few gun rights extremists. Every year, more people recognize the need for reasonable regulations. This rally encouraged me to "keep the faith" knowing that we are on the track to victory.

Gun Violence Prevention: We Are the Majority

For decades, the "conventional wisdom" has been that politicians dare not cross the NRA. Pundits and political strategists have warned candidates that support for even the mildest gun violence prevention proposals would bring down a hailstorm of opposition from Second Amendment absolutists, who were said to be "single issue voters." The theory was that gun rights absolutists were well organized and motivated, in contrast to supporters of gun violence prevention.

I think that conventional wisdom is wrong. In fact, I believe that gun violence prevention will become a "litmus test" or "wedge" issue in coming years. Here are my reasons.

First, far few people grow up in households with guns. Between the 1980s and 2010, the rate of gun ownership dropped from 49% of American households to 32%. That's a decrease of more than one-third in just one generation. That trend will continue as more Americans grow up in cities and suburbs, where gun ownership is far less common than in rural areas.

Second, most voters support reasonable gun violence prevention measures. Polls show that prohibiting assault weapons and large-capacity magazines and requiring universal background checks are supported by a large majority of even gun-owning Americans.

Third, gun owners are not "single-issue" voters. Most reasonable gun owners vote for candidates based on their overall agreement with the candidates' views. Those few who are gun rights extremists tend to be the same people who are anti-choice, anti-gay rights, and anti-government. They're not going to vote for a Democrat regardless of the candidate's stand on gun violence prevention.

Only a minority of a shrinking minority believe that unrestricted gun ownership should be allowed. Fewer than one percent of people in Illinois (and fewer than one-half of one percent in Cook County) applied for concealed carry permits in the first year they were available. But that small minority has forced the rest of us to post "No Guns" signs on our homes and offices if we don't want them endangering our families and co-workers.

We're already seeing signs that a candidate's willingness to take on the NRA is an asset, not a liability. Robin Kelly won her special election to Congress in part because she took a forthright stand in favor of reasonable gun violence prevention measures, while her opponents had voted with the NRA. 

State Senator Julie Morrison has introduced a bill to allow Illinois municipalities to adopt ordinances prohibiting assault weapons sales. She did so at the request of Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering, who is running for Congress. Congratulations to Sen. Morrison and Mayor Rotering for having the courage to take on the NRA. I believe the large majority of their constituents approve.

This change will not happen everywhere at the same pace. Supporting gun violence prevention will be more of an asset in a liberal suburb than in a rural area. But as more politicians take on the NRA and win (and as others equivocate and are punished by the voters), "conventional wisdom" will change. Very soon, candidates will be called upon by voters to take a firm and progressive stand on gun issues or risk losing their support.

Congratulations to April 7th Winners

Congratulations to Jessica Morrison and Zubair Khan, who were elected Tuesday to the District 15 Board of Education. Both Jessica and Zubair were born in Arlington Heights and grew up in the northwest suburbs. They will bring new ideas and a spirit of cooperation to the board.

Dave Gurion ran a great race. He impressed a lot of people, and you haven't seen the last of him.

You can view the District 15 election results, including precinct-by-precinct results, by clicking on this link. There are still some absentee and provisional ballots to be counted. Watch this site for updates.

Hal Snyder appears to have been elected to the Palatine Public Library District. Hal was the only candidate on the ballot, but there were three write-in candidates. Write-in votes won't be tabulated until next week. You can monitor the results by clicking on this link, or revisit this blog post from time to time for updates when they become available.

I'm troubled by the low voter turnout (less than 11 percent of registered voters). Cook County Clerk David Orr suggested today that Illinois consider mail-only voting for local elections. That's how all elections are conducted in Oregon and Washington State, and they have much higher turnout. One reason: you don't have to apply for a ballot. If you're registered, they will mail you a ballot before each election. Most precincts had fewer than 100 voters all day. It's a waste to staff thousands of polling places, especially for low-turnout elections like this one.

Register to Vote Vote Volunteer