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Highland Park pushes assault weapons ban with Biden

CHICAGO — The mayor of Highland Park, the community outside Chicago where seven spectators at a July 4 parade were gunned down, has spoken to President Joe Biden about pursuing a national ban on assault weapons.

“He shared his absolute grief at what had happened with us and said that this needs to stop, and [asked], ‘Why do we allow these weapons?’ … He was angry and concerned,” Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering said in an interview with POLITICO, adding that Biden echoed her own concerns that military-style weapons should be banned.

“These guns need to be removed from the public’s access. These are military weapons. Unless they’re in combat, it just doesn’t make sense,” said Rotering, a Democrat.

During the call, Biden also invited Rotering to the White House on Monday to attend an event commemorating the recent signing of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which strengthens background checks for weapon purchases.

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker and Illinois state Rep. Bob Morgan are also expected to attend the event. Morgan and Rotering were both at the parade when the gunman started shooting into the crowd.

On Sunday, Pritzker echoed Rotering, saying, “We need to ban assault weapons, not just in the state of Illinois, but nationally.”

He also called out “red flag” laws for not doing enough to stop the alleged shooter in the Highland Park case.

“For red flag laws to work, family members had to step forward and sign an affidavit, go to court, do something to make an affirmative action, so that those red flag laws would actually go into effect,” Pritzker said on CNN’s “State of the Nation.”

The governor referred to police previously being called to the suspect’s home and recovering knives. “So there were warning signs, there’s no doubt about it, but nothing that reached the probable cause or preponderance of the evidence required for there to be a red flag,” Pritzker said.

In Highland Park, an idyllic community just north of Chicago, Rotering is juggling her efforts to help her town heal alongside a renewed mission to get assault weapons banned. She spoke after attending a victim’s funeral Saturday and three others on Friday.

Monday’s White House event on the bipartisan gun measure that Biden has already signed will generate mixed emotions, Rotering said: “It’s a great first step. It’s a bipartisan bill. But there needs to be more done.”

The Highland Park mayor is also expected to testify before an upcoming U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the issue examining the use of assault weapons and magazines. Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin is head of the committee and has already signaled the issue is a top priority for the panel.

Hundreds of Highland Park residents have sought counseling after the attack on parade spectators. On Friday alone, 1,200 residents were seen over 12 hours by counselors.

“As I’m walking down the street, anybody I see has a dazed look on their faces or they’re hugging or crying. It’s too raw to be talking about anything else right now,” Rotering said.

One of the most sobering facts in the shooting is that children were first to respond, said the mayor.

“They’ve been trained in active shooter drills all of their lives, so they knew exactly what to do,” Rotering said. “They yelled, ‘Active shooter! Run! Hide!’ They told their parents. That to me is such a sad commentary on our society.”

The Highland Park mayor is not new to the gun debate. She pushed for passage of a city ordinance banning assault weapons after the 2013 school shooting at Sandy Hook, which held up despite court challenges. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case in 2015.

Rotering has since testified in Illinois’ state Capitol in Springfield to allow cities authority to ban such weapons. State law has preempted cities from passing such local laws. A measure addressing the issue made it out of the state’s Senate Judiciary Committee, but it was never brought to the floor. Now, Illinois lawmakers are looking at it again.

Just a few weeks ago, after the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 students and two teachers were killed, Rotering wrote the governor and state House and Senate leaders, calling on them to allow other cities an opportunity to pass their own bans on assault weapons.

It’s among proposals state lawmakers are looking at addressing in a possible special session or when lawmakers reconvene later this year.

“People say, ‘Look, you had a ban and nothing changed,’” said Rotering. “My response is that that ban reflects the values of my community and other communities should be able to reflect their values in terms of whether they want assault weapons on their streets.”