Kennedy unveils gun violence 'deep dive'

Primary candidates weigh in

CHICAGO, Ill. (WCIA) -- Candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for governor are rolling out their plans to enact tougher gun laws in the wake of a rising tide of shootings and murders across the state. 

At the halfway point of this calendar year, police in Springfield reported more than a 400 percent increase in gunshot victims compared to the same period in 2016. 

Shootings in Champaign were up nearly 300 percent during the same period compared to 2014 data. 

Police in Chicago reported 762 gun murders last year, a 58% increase over 2015. This year's death toll in Chicago is already approaching 400, according to a DNA Info database

'VORTEX OF VIOLENCE'

On Saturday, Chris Kennedy unveiled his campaign vow to address the "vortex of violence" speaking to a group of more than 100 people who met without air conditioning in the Windsor Park Lutheran Church in Chicago's South Shore neighborhood. 

"You need a license to sell a service that cuts hair and you don't need a license to sell a gun that cuts down a human life," Kennedy told the crowd.

Several audience members shared stories of their own personal experiences losing family members to gun violence. Kennedy chimed in with his own, recounting his early childhood memory watching national news broadcast footage of his uncle President John F. Kennedy's 1963 assassination. His family was revisited with grief once again in 1968 when his own father, U.S. Attorney General Bobby Kennedy, was murdered as he campaigned for the Democratic nomination for president. 

'YOU AIN'T GOT TO TELL HIM ABOUT VIOLENCE'

Speaking to the audience for more than 45 minutes, Kennedy told the crowd how the trauma of witnessing violent events distracted him in school, nearly derailed his childhood education and haunted him throughout high school. 

"I understand how difficult it is to go to class, to go to school, to recover from that, to try to excel," Kennedy said. 

"You ain't got to tell him about violence," said U.S. Congressman Bobby Rush. "He knows firsthand because he has experienced violence firsthand.

"I want a governor who knows what violence is, what it looks like, what it does and how to deal with, how to solve the problem of violence. Not someone who just wants to fly over violence, but come to my community and let us know how you will roll up your sleeves and work to solve this epidemic of violence in our community."

Rush is endorsing Kennedy's bid for governor. 

'MODEL OF THE MODERN STATE'

Kennedy told the crowd he would turn around the state's reputation as the "poster child of gun violence" and transform it into the "model of the modern state." One of his proposals to accomplish that involves building a statewide firearm database to track guns used in violent crimes. 

"That tracing mechanism, it has been really effective in other states and in other places that have done it," Kennedy said. "We have done it before here but we don't fund the program like we used to. We need to do that in support of the police and the communities that want lower gun violence." 

Kennedy pitched his plan as a collaboration with other states who intend to compile data in a piecemeal effort to construct a national database. He also calls for banning weapons sales to anyone on the terrorist watch list. 

'LIBERTARIAN MADMAN'

Kennedy took repeated aim at the policies of Republican Governor Bruce Rauner, at one point calling him a "libertarian madman" for his attempts to outsource government programs to private business. 

"No longer should the political calculus of a coldhearted governor stand in the way of protecting our kids," Kennedy said. He blamed spending cuts for a decline in police morale and a rise in crime. 

"The governor's action in Springfield to threaten everybody's pensions made all the senior police officers want to retire, robbing us of the examples of their lives of service and role models for younger officers trying to relate to the community. Now, they have no one to learn from." 

Rauner signed a bipartisan bill into law last month prompting judges to hand down tougher prison sentences for repeat gun offenders. 

'PATTERN OF CIVIL RIGHTS VIOLATIONS'

While Kennedy paid respect to the veteran role models in the Chicago Police Department, he also criticized the role of some in contributing to the pattern of Civil Rights violations detailed in a January report published by the Department of Justice. 

Other primary candidates shared similar concerns. 

State Senator Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) said, "All of Illinois government, Democrats and Republicans, have walked away from the communities of color, and we need to reverse decades of systematic disinvestment." 

Chicago City Alderman Ameya Pawar said, "Ending gun violence is all the more difficult because the relationship between law enforcement and many black and brown residents is toxic. The sound of police sirens is bringing fear instead of relief." 

Pawar plans to address gun violence in a Facebook Live speech on Tuesday. 

EXPANDED BACKGROUND CHECKS

Democratic primary candidates are pushing for expanded background checks in Illinois to include tighter restrictions on the mentally ill, domestic abusers or repeat violent offenders. 

"Communities across our state continue to be ravaged by gun violence and we need to do everything we can to protect our children and families," said J.B. Pritzker, a billionaire and high profile donor to the Democratic party. 

Pritzker said in a statement provided to WCIA, "We must tackle this issue on a number of fronts, including investing in mental health treatment and ensuring those with mental health issues cannot get guns in the first place."

"We also need to pass commonsense gun violence prevention measures like enhanced background checks for potential buyers and crackdowns on irresponsible dealers who sell their guns to gang members and children, while still protecting the rights of responsible gun owners." 

Biss pointed to his voting record in the statehouse as a template for his gun control agenda. 

"I have supported legislation to improve police accountability, license gun dealers, promote gun buy-back programs, limit concealed carry, crack down on gun trafficking and more."

THE GUN TRAINS

Chicago gang members replenished their arsenals with a bevy of stolen weapons by exploiting poorly secured railroad facilities. At least three major firearm heists have been reported in a three-year span. Kennedy plans to hold the railroads responsible if it happens again. 

"We're going to put the railroads on notice. We're going to say that if their rail lines and their rail yards are used again in a manner that threatens the public safety of the people of our state, where low levels of security are provided to trains loaded with guns, we will seize their rail lines to protect the people of their state."

DESPERATION DRIVES VIOLENCE

Federal studies show a direct link between poverty and violence. Data collected between 2008 and 2012 show people living in poverty are more than four times more likely to commit a violent crime than a person living above the poverty line. 

Pritzker says his plan would address what he considers the "root of the problem -- a lack of opportunity in the communities hit hardest by this epidemic. This problem didn't arise overnight and it won't be solved overnight, but we need a governor ready to bring people together, restore hope and get us on the right track." 


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