Gun control debate intensifies

Advocates fight for concealed gun law
March 11, 2009 4:37:26 PM PDT
As the gun debate rages on, gun rights advocates boarded a bus at the Rosemont station in Des Plaines, bound for Springfield, Ill., where they plan to make their case to lawmakers. People who support gun control will be fighting for tougher gun laws Wednesday in Chicago.

Gun control advocates point to crime scenes for reasons to strengthen the state's gun laws. A 17-year-old boy was shot and killed Tuesday night on North Ridgeway near Lawrence in Albany Park. Gunfire also erupted in Rogers Park overnight. There, a teenaged boy was shot several times. He is now in critical condition. Police do not have a motive or suspect for either shooting.

Gun opponents are convinced gun control laws can save lives, while gun backers believe easing up on those laws can prevent violence.

Wednesday is the Illinois State Rifle Association's annual lobby day in Springfield. While members march to the state capital, in Chicago, there was a call from those personally affected by gun violence to put a stop to it.

"I felt the pain of parents who lost children. I never thought I'd be one of those stats," said Rev. Willa Ester Pitts, mother of gun victims.

Rev. Ester Pitts became one of those statistics twice. Her 17-year-old-son, Kendrick, was killed two weeks ago in a gang related shooting. Ten days later, gun violence also claimed the life of Kendrick's older brother Carnell.

Pitts says it's beyond hard, but it has given her more of an incentive to speak out against violence and guns. On Wednesday, she stood with Rev. Jesse Jackson and others to call for stricter guns laws, including a nationwide ban on semi-automatic weapons.

"Five hundred and ten kids shot in the last 18 month. Those are Bagdhad numbers. These are war zones numbers," said Rev. Jesse Jackson.

And last night, Chicago police were on the scene on yet another fatality involving a teenager. Franco Avila, 17, was gunned down in Albany Park. He is now the 26th Chicago Public School student killed this year, 23 by gunfire.

The shooting comes as a bus load of Illinois State Rifle Association members headed to Springfield this morning to lobby lawmakers to ease up on gun laws.

"Removing guns is not going to make people less violent they are going to have alternate ways of being violent," said Martin Wezman, gun control opponent.

"My solution is to have concealed carry in Illinois. If all law abiding citizens carry concealed arms we can have a very effective mechanism to stop those crimes," said Sheng Sun, gun control opponent.

And the House committee approved a series of measures on gun control, including an assault weapon ban and a bill that allows only one gun purchase a month. Reverend Jackson believes economic stimulus money could help curb gun violence by putting people back to work.

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, Police Superintendent Jody Weis and community activists have long called for tougher gun laws to curb the city's gun violence.

"People live in fear of going to school. The fact that our school dropout rates, fear of walking on the street, fear of sitting on your porch, we should not have to live in fear," said Rev. Jesse Jackson.

As gun control advocates push their side of the issue, they are facing an empowered gun rights movement, especially after the U.S. Supreme Court cited Chicago's handgun ban in overturning Washington D.C.'s gun ban last summer. Since then, gun rights supporters have won victories against several suburban communities with bans and are challenging Chicago's ordinance.

Recently, gun rights advocates had a brief victory on a concealed carry law. The measure made it out of a house panel, but it was killed by a senate committee.

A committee of the Illinois Senate rejected a proposal to give Illinoisans the right to carry concealed weapons. Senate Bill 1976 would allow county sheriff's to issue concealed carry permits to qualified gun owners. The idea was voted down by members of the Senate Public Health Committee, which is dominated by Chicago-area lawmakers.

State Sen. John Jones, a Mount Vernon Republican who sponsored the proposal, said he wasn't surprised by the rejection, given the makeup of the panel. Concealed carry efforts have long been supported by downstate lawmakers, but opposed by Chicago-area lawmakers.

The Senate's action makes passage of three similar bills making their way through the Illinois House doubtful. Jones said even if those proposals win House approval, they'd likely go nowhere in the Senate.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.