Dozens of faith community leaders came together Wednesday morning to share their support and perspectives on proposed state legislation aimed at addressing one of the biggest problems to plague Chicago — gun violence.
Pastors, reverends, rabbis and imams, including the Rev. Michael Pfleger and Pastor Cornelius Parks, filled the stage of Good Hope Free Will Baptist Church in East Garfield Park — just blocks from where a deadly mass shooting took place on Halloween — to voice their concerns on gun violence across the city. They used the rally as a call for action to support House Bill 5855, or the Protect Illinois Communities Act.
The legislation would ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, help to further implement Illinois’ Firearm Restraining Order law and address illegal gun trafficking in the state and is a response to the mass shooting at the Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, where seven people were killed and dozens of others injured by a shooter using an assault-style rifle and high-capacity magazines.
Rep. Bob Morgan, a Democrat from Deerfield who was marching in the parade when the shooting occurred, introduced the bill in December after months of work by the Illinois House Firearm Safety and Reform working group, which he chairs. The group was formed in July with a goal of creating legislation that the General Assembly could pass to reduce gun violence in Illinois, he said.
“I’m cautiously optimistic that in the coming days, we will be able to pass this meaningful legislation,” Morgan said. “Final negotiations are ongoing, so we’re continuing to work to try and pass this legislation before the current General Assembly ends on Jan. 11.”
Morgan said the bill requires a majority vote of 60 in the House and 30 in the Senate.
Morgan said he is “heartened” to see all the support for the legislation, especially from what he called a diverse group of community leaders.
“It’s not just mass shootings,” Morgan said. “It is not just daily gun violence in urban communities. Gun violence is really just devastating communities up and down the state. I think the meeting today reflects how ubiquitous gun violence is in our society and reinforces the need to do something about it as quickly as we can.”
The Rev. Ira Acree, from the Greater St. John Baptist Church, said Illinois legislators “must set a national standard by establishing a statewide ban on all combat weapons of destruction.” Acree, a longtime gun violence activist, said the state has seen “enough innocent bloodshed.”
“We’re here today to use our influence and stand on our moral authority to demand our state legislators take courage and vote the will and interest of our people and no longer be held hostage by the NRA,” he said.
Anthony Simpkins spoke Wednesday on behalf of local mosques Masjid al Ihsan and Masjid Taqwa as well as the Illinois Muslim Civic Coalition, the Downtown Islamic Center and Muslim families across the state, he said.
According to Simpkins, God calls on people to have faith and love each other, “but he also calls upon us to have common sense.”
“Our children are dying, children from every community, and this is a matter of common sense,” he said. “We call upon our legislators to have common sense and to lead and to save our children.”
Rabbi Ike Serotta from Makom Solel Lakeside in Highland Park said he joined the other faith leaders Wednesday morning because there are “no boundaries” or “barriers” when it comes to preventing violence and saving lives.
“People here on this altar helped me in dark times this past summer,” he said referring to the mass shooting in Highland Park, “so I’m honored to stand here, and there is no doubt that if we can save a life, just one, the tradition says we save a whole world because we never know who comes from that person, what those roots might grow, so we need to save everyone we can save. This is the least we can do, to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. There is so much more work, but this is the place to start.”
The Rev. Marshall Hatch, of the Leaders Network and New Mount Pilgrim Church, said gun violence “is an issue whose time has come.” He recalled the aftermath of the Highland Park parade shooting in July and said even though it was “a long way from West Garfield Park,” he and others got in their cars and stood with the people of that community because “we were acquainted with their grief” and “understood their sorrow.”
“There are very few issues that you can get a group this diverse to agree on, so when you see this kind of gathering and this kind of support for the issue, in this case support for Bill 5855, to ban assault weapons, to ban high-capacity magazines, Hatch said, “it means that there’s something very right with this issue.”