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‘Look at Chicago’: Politicians again use city as example of why strict gun control wont work even as Texas school shooting jolts local parents

Aline Stern of the Lincoln Square neighborhood found it difficult to send her two children to school on Wednesday, the morning after an 18-year-old gunman opened fire in an elementary school in Texas, killing 19 children and two adults.

She sensed a fearful tension among many other parents at drop-off as well.

“I think we were all scared,” she said. “We all hugged them a little tighter. School is supposed to be a safe haven for kids. Not a place where you’re afraid.”

Parents, teachers and politicians around the Chicago area spent Wednesday mourning the loss of lives following Tuesday’s mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, as well as grappling with the nation’s gun violence crisis.

Meanwhile, politicians again traded barbs over Chicago’s violence, with Republicans repeating the refrain of using the city as a political punching bag to suggest stricter gun control will do nothing to slow the seemingly never-ending heartbreak caused by mass shootings. The city was rocked last weekend by a shooting downtown that left two dead and seven injured.

Politicians in Texas took jabs at calls for more gun control laws by pointing at Chicago. When Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin was asked if he would support requirements like a license to own a firearm, he said a license wouldn’t have altered the fatal outcome in his city.

“Look at Chicago,” McLaughlin said. “You can’t even buy a gun in the city of Chicago, but they have shootings every weekend.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also pointed to gun violence in other cities with tighter regulations, including Chicago.

“I hate to say it, but there are more people who are shot every weekend in Chicago than there are in schools in Texas,” Abbott said, according to CNN. “So, you’re looking for a real solution, Chicago teaches that what you’re talking about is not a real solution. Our job is to come up with real solutions that we can implement.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot bristled at Abbott’s comments at a news conference Wednesday.

“Well, there’s probably not anything nice that I can say about the Texas governor,” she said. “This is a man who is determined to be a race to the bottom. He’s obviously trying to burnish his credentials for what was likely a run for president. And he’s doing that, frankly, at the expense of people in that state…It’s a long standing Republican trope to try to put a city like Chicago in their mouths and criticize us. But the fact of the matter is, that guy needs to focus on taking care of business there.”

She added: “It’s not personal between the two of us. I don’t know that guy. And frankly I don’t want to know the guy. When I watched him do is a race to the bottom to try and out-Trump his competitors and what he thinks he is going to burnish his candidacy). I think people all over the country can see right through that…I’m going to defend my city against attacks from somebody who is a clown like Governor Abbott of Texas, who lies about our city.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker responded on Twitter saying “shame on you,” to the Texas governor, posting a news article showing that most of guns used in Chicago crimes come from outside of Illinois.

“You are lying about Chicago and what actually perpetuates gun violence,” Pritzker said. “The majority of guns used in Chicago shootings come from states with lax gun laws. Do better. You have 19 kids and two teachers who deserve our best.”

Former President Donald Trump repeatedly called out Chicago in a similar way, drawing reactions from city leaders.

Days before the elementary school massacre in Texas, a white gunman in body armor had fatally shot 10 Black victims at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York. Authorities have described the crime as “racially motivated violent extremism.”

In mid-May, a man with a gun opened fire at a Taiwanese church in California, after chaining the door shut and hiding firebombs inside. One victim was killed and five others were wounded in the attack, which authorities said was motivated by political hatred for Taiwan.

Stern said she believes “something can be done, but not at our level,” adding that politicians could act to pass more gun control measures and curb violence, but they aren’t willing to do so.

“I feel very helpless as a parent,” she said. “I feel like there is nothing I can do.”

Researchers and experts criticized politicians for flippantly citing Chicago to push back against the premise that certain gun laws and restrictions can contribute to a reduction in firearm deaths and injuries.

Experts pointed out that Texas and Illinois actually have nearly the same deaths from firearms.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data from 2020, more people died from guns in Texas than Illinois, when suicide and accidental shootings are included, said Cassandra Crifasi, a researcher and an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

“The rate of all gun deaths in Texas is higher than the gun death rate in Illinois,” Crifasi said.

Crifasi said Illinois has more homicides, but there are more suicides in Texas.

“The common trope is that places like Baltimore or Detroit or Chicago are the reasons we have so many gun deaths in this country,” she said. “And yes, those places … have unacceptable rates of gun homicides. But the places with the highest rates of gun deaths are not Maryland, Michigan and Illinois. They are Mississippi, Louisiana, Wyoming, Missouri and Alabama. The places with the weaker gun laws have higher rates of death.”

The availability of guns that are used in Chicago crime is directly impacted by laws in surrounding states, meaning the ability to traffic guns out of Indiana or Wisconsin contributes to the violence. According to a 2017 report by the University of Chicago Crime Lab, as many as 60 percent of recovered firearms came from out of state.

“Chicago is affected by the laws and policies in the rest of the continental U.S.,” said Crime Lab director Roseanna Ander. “Particularly those most proximate to us. You can be in Chicago and be closer to Indiana than you are to the Loop.”

Crifasi added that “states with strong gun laws are at the mercy of states with weaker gun laws.”

The Illinois Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, on Wednesday called on Congress to pass “common sense” gun laws, as well as shore up mental health services in schools and surrounding communities.

“We face another tragedy – an almost unbearable and oft-repeated incident of kids getting on a bus, going to school and hanging up their backpacks on a hook in a classroom to never walk out,” the union said in a news release. “It’s time to stop watching these tragedies and start doing something. We ask for our leaders to come together. This is not a partisan issue. This is not a gun rights issue. This is an issue of children being able to attend school and be safe, of families of color being able to go to the grocery store in the middle of the day and not be targeted by violence, and of helping all of America not live in fear.”

The Joliet Police Department announced on Wednesday that it will have a heightened police presence at all Joliet schools until the end of the school year, in response to the Texas elementary school shooting.

School districts in Ohio, Nevada, Connecticut and other states across the country also increased security and police officers at schools following the tragedy.

New Jersey acting Attorney General Matthew Platkin increased the law enforcement presence at schools throughout the state “effective immediately,” according to a news release.

“Our students, their families and caregivers, teachers, and school administrators should feel safe in school, and be assured that New Jersey’s law enforcement agencies will do everything in their power to protect them,” the news release said.

In west suburban St. Charles, one retired elementary school art teacher said news of the Texas shooting “felt like a bolt of electricity going through me.”

As she watched the horrific images and media reports, Lynette Niequist couldn’t help but think of the faces of all the children she had taught over more than two decades.

“It immediately brought to mind an untold number of active shooter lockdown drills where I might have a class full of frightened kindergartners through fifth graders jostling for space in my art supply room while trying to keep (as) quiet as possible,” she said.

Niequist recalled that during one of those drills, a little girl commented that she probably shouldn’t wear her shoes with a neon light-up sole, because the blinking lights might give away her hiding spot to a potential shooter.

“For a child to think that, it’s just heartbreaking,” Niequist said. “For her to have to be thinking of being a target of a shooter at that age, what a reality.”

She added that the magnitude and horror of gun violence can seem overwhelming and “almost painful too to look at it.”

“But we need to look at it,” she said. “We can’t turn our eyes away.”

Tribune reporters Alice Yin and Tracy Swartz contributed to this story

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