“There Is No Reason That We Have Weapons of War”: Highland Park Shooting Shows The Limits Of Bipartisan Gun Reform


Robert Crimo III had more than a dozen knives, a dagger, and a sword confiscated by police in 2019 after he threatened to “kill everyone.” Not three years later, he allegedly carried out that threat — using high-powered rifles he purchased legally. That he was able to do so is an outrage — one that should prompt significant action to address the glaring inadequacy of the gun laws in this country and how they are enforced. “We need to end this horror,” Vice President Kamala Harris said during a visit to Chicago Tuesday, a day after Crimo allegedly fired on an Independence Day parade in Highland Park, killing at least seven and wounding dozens of others. “We need to stop this violence.”

It’s something we’ve heard Democratic leaders say time and time again. But this time, it comes just over a week after President Joe Biden  signed the first major gun safety legislation in decades into law. Democrats were able to convince Republicans last month to pass that bill in the wake of back-to-back mass shootings in Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas. Biden hailed that as a “consequential” legislative success, even as he acknowledged its shortcomings. But the tragedy in Highland Park — and others across the country — has underscored how insufficient the law is to address the scope of the issue, having been diluted to get enough Republican support to pass it. 

“The Senate showed just one week ago that passing a bill strengthening gun regulations, even without the NRA’s corrupt blessing, was possible,” NAACP President Derrick Johnson said in a statement Wednesday. “But this violent weekend has proven that the Bipartisan Gun Safety Act does not go far enough whatsoever.”

Efforts to stem the tide of this uniquely American crisis have repeatedly come up short in the past — and it’s hard to imagine this time will be any different. Municipalities like Highland Park, which enacted its own assault weapons ban in 2013, and states like Illinois, which has strong gun laws on its books, are continuously undermined by the lax laws of the areas around them. And federal efforts to fix the uneven patchwork of regulation, let alone impose a national ban on assault weapons, have consistently been blocked by Republicans, who apparently value their NRA ratings over the lives of their constituents.

“We are the only country that doesn’t address access to weapons of war,” Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering told MSNBC Tuesday night. “This isn’t freedom.”

Indeed, the new law somewhat expanded background checks, closed the so-called “boyfriend loophole,” and provided additional funding for red flag laws and violence prevention programs. But the background check system is still far too weak, and key, common sense measures — most notably, bans on war weapons and high-capacity magazines — were left out of the package. The bloody holiday in Highland Park this week has renewed calls for such moves, including from the vice president. “There is no reason that we have weapons of war on the streets of America,” Harris said Tuesday. “We need reasonable gun safety laws.”

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But that’s an obvious non-starter for Republicans, and it’s not clear that the Biden administration has much energy to go another round with them on gun control after last month’s compromise. “He’s missing the boat here,” as Democratic strategist Camille Rivera told Politico Wednesday. “This is our time to dig in and be absolutely furious because these one-half measures are not working.”

The Highland Park massacre underscored that fact: Authorities say the 21-year-old shooter, whose family claimed to have seen no warning signs of the coming violence, was able to legally build his arsenal after obtaining a gun license — with his father’s sponsorship, just three months after Highland Park police visited his home, took 16 knives and other weapons from him, and labeled him a “clear and present danger.” Though they said they could not arrest him in the episode, the department notified Illinois State Police, which is responsible for issuing Firearm Owner Identification cards. ISP confirmed it received the Highland Park warning, but said “there was not a clear and present danger” at the time Crimo applied.

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, who has already signed legislation tightening gun laws and expanding background checks in the state, has vowed to fight for more robust reform in the wake of Monday’s mass shooting. “Grief will not bring the victims back,” he said in a statement Monday, “and prayers alone will not put a stop to the terror of rampant gun violence in our country.” But that’s all we’ll be left with until Democrats can find a way to actually enact those solutions. “We need the rest of the country to catch up with us,” Rotering said Wednesday. “There is no reason we should be going through this every single week.”

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