Suburban women who advocated for assault weapons law discuss its impact as legal challenges continue – Chicago Tribune

Second Amendment

When Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the assault weapon ban law, Delphine Cherry, 55, of Hazel Crest, raced to Springfield to be by his side when he signed it.

“I did not know he was going to sign the assault weapon ban that quick because I was just in Springfield at the inauguration. I get a call ‘Hey, he’s going to sign the bill,’ and I’m like, ‘I just came back from there,’” Cherry said.

Her friend picked her up and they arrived in Springfield at 7:57 p.m., which gave them three minutes to spare before Pritzker signed the bill into law.

“It was an honor to be there,” Cherry said. “This one was special … because we don’t need weapons of mass destruction.”

Cherry, Marsha Lee, of Blue Island, and Kelly Kraemer, of Downers Grove, advocated for the law, which bans high-powered weapons and high-capacity magazines, and expressed their excitement with its passage. But, they also raised some concerns about the reaction to the law and racial disparities in the reason it was passed.

Cherry lost both of her children to gun violence. Her daughter, Tyesa Cherry, 16, was killed by a stray bullet Jan. 17, 1992, as she left a Chicago movie theater. Three days before Christmas in 2012, her 20-year-old son, Tyler Randolph, was shot outside their Hazel Crest home.

“That pain don’t go away. Your life is changed completely. You’re not living the same. You’re not thinking the same,” Cherry said. “With me, it’s let me take my experience and try to help somebody else get through their pain and grief.”

Delphine Cherry, of Hazel Crest, at the Hazel Crest Park District Community Center Dec. 22, 2022.

Over the last eight years, Cherry has become an advocate for gun violence prevention. She’s gone to Springfield often in those years to talk with legislators about gun laws and to share her story.

“I’m not against guns, but I’m against people that have them illegally,” Cherry said.

In Springfield, Cherry said she devotes her time trying to sway legislators who oppose a piece of gun legislation. Cherry said she first asks the legislator if he or she has children. Cherry said she goes on to share her story and then asks the legislator to close his or her eyes and to picture what she’s gone through.

As she met with legislators about the assault weapon ban, Cherry said the majority told her they were hesitant, either because they didn’t think it would pass or because Illinois already has a lot of gun laws.

“I owe it to my son, because his case is still unsolved, and my daughter to get every illegal gun off the streets of Illinois and around the United States,” Cherry said. “I can’t bring my two children back, but I sure can help save another child.”

Lee, 66, said she’s been an advocate for gun laws since her son, Tommy, was fatally shot in Harvey in August 2008. Lee said her daughter is a Chicago Public Schools teacher, and she does not want her to have to go through a school shooting, ensuring her students are under desks and barricading the door.

That’s why, Lee said, something has to be done about “the rapid fire pistols” that can injure or kill multiple people in a short period of time. She said she’s been focused on fighting against gun manufacturers and the National Rifle Association for profiting off guns that cause grave harm.

Lee said she is a gun owner and isn’t against gun ownership, but said assault weapon use has “gotten out of hand in America.”

Lee said she testified in committee hearings in support of the assault weapon ban bill. She also wrote legislators letters and called their offices asking for their support.

Marsha Lee, right, on a bus to Springfield Jan. 5, 2023, with Tanja Murray, the La Grange Area Moms Demand Action Chapter leader, to testify in favor of the assault weapon ban bill.

“I don’t fool myself. I don’t think this is going to end gun violence, but I hope to save some lives. We’ve got to start somewhere,” Lee said.

Lee said she views the signing of the assault weapon ban law though the lens of race: if Black people are the majority of the population affected by gun violence, “things remain stagnant.” But, when a community like Highland Park is effected, legislators take action, she said.

“This has been a fight that we’ve been working on for a while,” Lee said. “I’m glad that the bill was signed, but I really thought about the fact that all of these years we’ve been trying to get something done, and it took Highland Park to be effected before people really got behind it.”

Kraemer, 51, advocates for gun safety legislation because her uncle was fatally shot more than 40 years ago and her stepfather took his own life nearly 14 years ago.

She said she learned of the bill’s passage on social media, but was surprised it didn’t get more national attention.

“It’s a really big deal and it’s setting a precedent that should’ve been set a long time ago,” Kraemer said.

The state’s 5th District Appellate Court on Tuesday upheld an Effingham County judge’s decision to temporarily block the ban. Kraemer said she is concerned the case will go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Constantly, we are told from the top of our government that we’re going to put the decision in the hands of the state and then that doesn’t happen,” Kraemer said.

Kerry Kraemer, holding the megaphone, marches in the Frankfort Fall Fest parade Sept. 3, 2018.

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Since the law was enacted, the Illinois State Rifle Association and nearly a half dozen other gun rights advocates filed a federal lawsuit. Two other lawsuits were filed in state court in Downstate Crawford and Effingham counties.

The federal lawsuit echoes many of the arguments the ban’s Republican opponents made during legislative debate, including that it criminalizes law-abiding citizens who have a right to bear arms under the Second Amendment. The suit also alleges the law violates the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, meant to ensure equal protection.

Lee said she doesn’t believe gun ownership is protected by the Constitution.

“We also are supposed to have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and because of gun violence people don’t have their lives, liberty and their pursuit of happiness. Don’t tell me about your constitutional rights. What about our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?” Lee said.

Lee said she’d now like to see legislation raising the age for purchasing a gun and addressing straw gun purchases. Illinois has strict gun laws, but it is near states that have more relaxed gun laws, Kraemer said, so more laws are needed at the federal level.

As for Cherry, she said she doesn’t know what law will come next, but she knows she’ll be there to advocate for it.

“I’m going to continue to fight. I don’t know what next bill is coming up, but I’m going to be there, front and center,” Cherry said. “It’s a way of honoring my children.”

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