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  • Megann Horstead

Gun violence nightmares revealed at Joliet panel


University Park resident Brenda Mitchell spoke of how she has two family members who died by gun violence, one of which is her 31-year-old son Kenneth, one of which is her brother.

Mitchell was among dozens of people who attended a recent panel discussion, and shared their experiences with gun violence.

The event was hosted in Joliet by U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Naperville.

In her remarks at the panel discussion, Mitchell said she got a call in the middle of one night when she learned Kenneth had been struck and killed by a stray bullet.

“I was traumatized with nowhere to go,” she said.

Mitchell also recounted how her brother died by gun violence

“I witnessed my mother mourn for my brother who was shot and killed,” she said. “She could not handle losing her first-born grandson to gun violence after the death of her own son. … She died from a broken heart.”

Through November of 2019, 54 suicides by gun death have been reported in Will County this year, officials said. Last year, there were 18.

As for homicides, there have been 14 related to guns and 2 of which were accidental, officials said. Last year, there were 13 related to guns and 1 of which was accidental.

Foster said he believes he has a strong moral duty to do the right thing to address gun violence in the nation.

“I think this is an incredibly important discussion to have as a community and as a country,” he said. “Gun violence is ending too many lives and traumatized too many. Each year, tens of thousands are killed by gun violence.”

Foster touted the legislation he’s signed onto that work to make gun violence less common. He turned to challenge the U.S. Senate to consider passing legislation to enhance background checks.

“Unfortunately, the United States Senate has done nothing on this,” Foster said. “I fear they will not unless people continue raise their voices and say, ‘it’s not acceptable to have legislation like this that’s support by 80 or 90 or sometimes 95% of the American public.”

Mark Jones, the senior policy advisor for the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, said he’s seen quite a bit of gun violence in his previous law enforcement career.

“We’re on a really good path, here, in Illinois—I have to tell you,” he said. “We have passed now the last two sessions some very significant firearms legislation, and we’re going to get some further legislation in the next couple sessions. I am anticipating and predicting that within the next couple years Illinois is going to the leader or certainly tied with California for the most progressive firearms laws.”

Jones said the federal government is unprepared to do the job that it’s supposed to do.

“The Congress—and not through any fault of yours, sir—but [it has] many, many years of affectless behavior and being bought and paid for by the firearms industry, many of our Congressional representatives and senators don’t vote their conscience or vote what’s right, but they vote what the industry tells them,” he said. “I think we’re getting done with that.”

Mitchell, noting what elected officials are doing, said it’s up to Congress to do its job.

“What we’re asking the Senate to do is pay attention to the genocide in our community and that this is a crime on humanity,” she said. “It’s not about black and white. This is not about anybody’s second amendment rights. … It’s about doing the right thing and having the opportunity to save lives.”

The hope, Foster, said is panel discussions of this type can help stop gun violence.

“Because ultimately, the thoughts and prayers that we hear about again and again after every one of these mass shootings are simply not enough,” he said. “We should not and cannot wait for the next national tragedy.”