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New Momentum in the Attack Against Handgun Violence

40-year-old organization provides veteran leadership in the current climate

The last 12 months have brought some key legislative victories for advocates of handgun violence prevention — within the last year, The Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence (ICHV) has focused on advocating for bills that will reduce illegal firearms across the state, require state licensing for gun dealers, and keep guns away from those believed to be a danger to themselves or others.

According to ICHV campaign director Mark Walsh, the organization's efforts to educate the public and lawmakers, as well as advocate for policies aimed at reducing gun violence, have become even more imperative and invigorated.

One of those bills, the Combating Illegal Gun Trafficking Act (SB 337), should be on its way to Governor Rauner's desk after successfully passing through the House and Senate in May; the bill incorporates part of the Gun Dealer Licensing Act (SB 1657), a proposed bill (vetoed in April) requiring Illinois gun dealers to obtain both a federal and state license.

An additional bill signed into law, SB 3256, requires a 72-hour waiting period for all firearm purchases; the prior law required a 72-hour wait for handguns, while long guns, such as rifles, and assault weapons like the AR-15, required only a 24-hour wait. The 72-hour "cooling period" is expected to help prevent dangerous, impulsive decisions by the buyer and allow more time for background checks. Additionally, the Firearm Restraining Order (HB 2354), addresses violence around suicides, school shootings, and domestic abuse by empowering family members or law enforcement (individuals who are often the first to witness pertinent signs and warnings) to petition the court to seize all firearms for a six month period from those believed to be a danger to themselves or others.

"We've seen legislation like this adopted in other states," Walsh said. "Connecticut has had it in place for a few years, and they've seen a decrease in the number of suicides."

ICHV has also had success in its defensive efforts; the organization takes credit in helping to stymie State and National Rifle Association priority legislation during last winter's session of the Illinois General Assembly, including a bill to legalize silencers.

"It's a testament to the work we've been doing, educating legislators, and the public increasing its support of what we've been working on," Walsh says. "It's been a lot of hard work, not just from us and the coalition, but from the relentless and focused support from our House and Senate sponsors to get these bills passed."

"I've been working in this space for about 10 years and I've never seen this kind of legislative success," he added.

A significant challenge faced by gun violence prevention organizations is the lack of data on firearm violence. According to ICHV, nationally, about 30,000 people are killed yearly, and another 60,000 are shot and survive. Walsh says that in an area like Chicago, where there are strong pockets of gun violence, the statistical breakouts can be overwhelming; however, he is encouraged to see people and organizations — such as our Safe & Peaceful grantees — turn that reality into a sense of action.

"A lot of our policy work is based on what we think will be effective in reducing illegal firearms across the state," Walsh explains. "Many people realize legislation alone is not going to solve gun violence, but if we can keep these guns from getting in the hands of people who should not have access to them, we're saving lives, and that's a key thing to remember."

"To me, it's a public health crisis and it's important to remember that gun violence is more than just guns and bullets: It's people turning their heads to the socioeconomic impacts of gun violence. We tend to vilify whole communities due to high gun violence rates, but we have to ask 'why' and 'how' can we solve that — it's clear that it's by improving economic opportunities, improving educational services, and repairing communities, and that's not simple," Walsh adds.

This is a story about the Gun Policy strategy of the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities. 

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United Under an Orange Hue

"Party for Peace" memorial brings together leaders, victims, survivors, family, friends and activists

January 29, 2013, a young student was shot, her life devastatingly cut short: Five years later, Hadiya Pendleton's story remains an important symbol in the movement to end gun violence — National Gun Violence Awareness Day was established June 2, 2015, what would have been Hadiya's 17th birthday.

This year, Moms Demand Action (an affiliate of Everytown for Gun Safety) and the Pendleton Park Advisory Council teamed up to host a "party for peace" at Pendleton Park, (named for Hadiya's in 2015) that also recognized many victims and survivors of gun violence. Hadiya's family; Father Michael Pfleger of The Faith Community of St. Sabina; Illinois gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker; 3rd Ward Alderman Pat Dowell; and Debbie Weir, Moms Demand Action managing director, were all in attendance.

"This park is about being a symbol of hope for our children, where they can come and play and be children, enjoy life, develop a relationship with their parents and with the community," said Alderman Dowell. Children spent the afternoon playing games, dancing, having their faces painted, and eating hot dog, popcorn and ice cream. There was a surprise visit by Chicago Bears mascot Staley Da Bear, and The Jesse White Tumblers and King College Prep marching band (which Hadiya had been a member of) performed.

Orange was Hadiya's favorite color, and after she passed, her family and friends began wearing orange to honor her during her birth month. That small gesture of love was magnified and became Wear Orange, a nationwide movement in the fight against gun violence. According to Megan Kivarkis, a Chicago leader of Moms Demand Action, more than 450 events took place across the country during "Wear Orange" weekend.

"This is our largest event yet," Kivarkis said. "It's important to raise awareness, but [events] also serve as a call to action. Wearing orange is great because it's important to honor the victims and survivors of gun violence, but it also gives people the opportunity to get involved, to take important steps toward real change."

For some attendees, the Wear Orange celebration marked the beginning of a new passion for volunteering and activism. Lisa, a Moms Demand Action volunteer, said she found the local chapter after the Parkland shootings, when she was "feeling particularly frustrated with our gun culture here in America." Davayna, who brought her two children, ages 5 and 8, to the event, noted that "it's important to develop a sense of family within the community, and to be there for the victims and survivors: My kids don't know remember Hadiya's story but I want them to understand it's important to be supportive and care for their neighbors."

Noemi Martinez, a Chicago Survivors crisis responder, explained that gun violence has always been an issue, but the resources to deal with the aftermath haven't always been available. "When my son was murdered 14 years ago on Memorial Day weekend, there were no organizations out here helping anybody or providing any kind of support. I had to survive through family and friends — I learned how to live with it and carry it, and grieving is not easy."

I'm living proof that it does get easy, but it's a process. I'm here to support other families who have lost loved ones. Events like this are so good for emotional support and building new relationships," Martinez added.

"After I lost my brother to gun violence, it was important to me that I stay active in the community and take action in his name," said Isabel, a resident of Little Village who also attended the event. "I want to do everything I can to support and encourage the new wave of young activists. They're fired up and need to be reminded that their voices can have a big impact on the future of senseless gun tragedies in America."

This is a story about the Community Safety and Peace strategy of the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities. 

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Education That is Far from Elementary

CPS students primed to channel their tragedies into activism and advocacy 

Thousands of students across the country participated in the National School Walkout to demand stricter laws against gun violence; for students at Henderson Elementary in West Englewood, this marked their third walkout.

Henderson's peace marches are born from pain that hit too close to home — within the last three years, the school has seen three of its students die from gun violence. So when Henderson students march, they walk down the very streets where fellow classmates lost their lives.

"We've had a shooting or homicide every day for the last 37 months," said Dion McGill, a program manager at the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence."[The April 20 march] This one is the first one that actually isn't in direct response to the killing of a student."

About 60 students, teachers, and parents participated in the march. As they walked down the streets carrying symbols of peace, such as cardboard doves, and signs that commemorated those who passed away, neighbors stepped outside to cheer on the marchers and join in their "increase the peace" chant.

"When we began to have murders with our kids and shootings here [on the school's grounds], it became really important to teach the kids about activism and advocacy," said Ylonda Ware, a Henderson counselor for nine years who organized the peace march. "I think it raises their awareness, that there is something that they can do and that people will come out and be a part of their movement and listen." 

"It's helpful for them to see what's happening in the news as it relates to handgun violence; it's helpful for them to learn about the root causes of violence and how it impacts them and their community and their future," Ware continued. "[Marching] This is one of the ways you can raise awareness and get the alderman, the state representative, and the police department to come out and listen to what you have to say, to hold your elected officials accountable."

15th Ward Alderman Raymond Lopez attended the April 20th march. He's been connected to Henderson's marches since their inception and hopes that the students can see peaceful activism as a way out of the cycle of violence.

"The only way to truly break that cycle is to go to the source of where that next cycle starts, and that's the children," Lopez said. "These marches are student-driven and organized in-house; this helps embolden them to go home and say, 'Violence is not an option for us,' there's something more that we need to live for — if we can have them embrace a new direction, it will have a lasting impact on changing that cycle."

"I tell students that activism is an ongoing process: Nothing is stagnant, it's something we have to do," McGill emphasized.

This is a story about the Community Safety and Peace strategy of the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities.

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Everyone who cares deeply about Chicago’s future can play a role.

If you are an employer, you can hire young people at risk. If you are a community leader, you can help improve police-community relations. If you are a health care provider, you can support trauma-informed care to gun violence victims. If you are a funder, you can support any one of these efforts. Whatever you do, your voice matters when you speak up in support of policies that can make our neighborhoods safer. Reach out to learn more.

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