Government | My Suburban Life

Highland Park mayor repeats calls for stricter gun laws in meeting with DuPage board

Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering calls for gun control measures during a DuPage County Board finance committee meeting Tuesday in Wheaton. (Brian Hill | Staff Photographer)

Aiden McCarthy, a 2-year-old boy with ringlets, is still asking for his mom and dad, who died shielding their only child from a hail of gunfire at the Highland Park Fourth of July parade.

Third-grader Cooper Roberts is still “learning about living forevermore in a wheelchair with PTSD,” Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering said.

“Let’s call these mass shootings for what they are: They’re terrorism,” Rotering said Tuesday as she urged DuPage County Board members to formally support stricter gun laws.

A Highland Park tradition became a scene of terror when a rooftop gunman fired into the crowd gathered at the downtown Independence Day parade, killing seven people and leaving dozens more injured, including children. Almost four months later, many of the survivors are “still trying to recover physically from these devastating and complex wounds,” Rotering said.

She has tried to express the incomprehensible, sparing no brutal detail.

“Our story includes the Toledo family -- all 17 of them who directly experienced what happened to their grandfather’s head when it was hit by a high-velocity gunshot,” Rotering said.

The massacre has put Rotering at the forefront of gun control advocacy in Illinois. She has testified in Congress and met with local lawmakers to build momentum for a state and a federal ban on assault-style weapons like the one used in the Highland Park rampage.

“Our joy was shattered pretty quickly by one young man shooting 83 rounds in under a minute from a legally obtained weapon designed to devastate as many human bodies as quickly as possible,” Rotering said.

Her remarks came mere hours after a shooting in a St. Louis school killed a teacher and a teenage student.

“As we well know, this uniquely American problem has resulted in a long list of communities that have shared this trauma and with frustrating regularity,” Rotering said. “As recently as yesterday, shooters using assault weapons and large-capacity magazines wreak terror, agony and carnage throughout our nation in major cities and suburban towns and in rural areas.”

After Rotering’s appeal, DuPage board members passed a resolution directing the county’s state and federal lobbyists to push for legislation banning the sale of such high-powered weapons. The Lake County Board in August also amended its legislative agenda to support state or federal bans.

“I recognize that restricting access ... to assault weapons doesn’t stop all gun violence. But banning weapons of war is one common-sense step that we can take,” Rotering told DuPage officials.

In 2013, Rotering and the Highland Park city council passed an ordinance enacting its own ban within a 10-day window afforded to local governments by the state. She acknowledged that DuPage and Lake counties can’t adopt a ban in unincorporated areas because they lack home-rule powers.

“Unfortunately, the Illinois General Assembly didn’t see the need to allow that opportunity to extend across the state, allowing other Illinois cities to take that constitutional action if they chose to, or even better to enact a statewide ban,” Rotering said.

When asked about that prospect, Rotering, a Democrat, said her sense is “we will get this done” in January during a lame-duck session in Springfield after the election.

“None of us are islands within the state, within the country,” Rotering said. “But if we can make it that much harder for someone intent on committing a community killing spree to obtain a weapon, with the impact and speed of the one that was used in my community, we’ve all taken a step in the right direction.

The DuPage County Board resolution also calls for legislation mandating safe storage of guns, reforming the Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) card process, requiring training related to the sale or possession of a gun, and increasing criminal penalties for certain gun offenses.

“This resolution is a very good first step,” said Democrat Liz Chaplin, chair of the county board’s finance committee.

As she calls on lawmakers to act, Rotering has taken on the role of counselor to families of victims and a town’s collective grief.

“I am still walking through my central business district helping people re-enter our local economy because they’re afraid to go back because it’s too much to even be on site,” she said. “These are costs that people don’t talk about, but they’re also part of the equation that people need to think about.”

A 21-year-old Highwood man has been charged with carrying out the mass shooting. He is next due in court for a case management hearing on Nov. 1.