If lawmakers need motivation to beef up gun safety laws, they should read the agonized statement from the family of 8-year-old Cooper Roberts, now paralyzed from the waist down after a gunman armed with a high-powered rifle rained bullets on and around Highland Park’s Independence Day parade.
The bullet struck the boy’s upper abdomen and tore through his liver, esophagus and abdominal aorta before severing his spinal cord and exiting through his back. The damage to his aorta was severe enough that doctors had to replace the damaged segment with an adult-sized synthetic graft that he eventually will grow into. Surgeons at the University of Chicago’s Comer Children’s Hospital also repaired his liver and esophagus.
“He is in a great deal of pain — physically and emotionally — especially as the family had to share with him the devastating news that he is paralyzed from the waist down,” the statement added.
We have our doubts that politicians either at the state or federal level — particularly those that blindly hew to the gun lobby’s resistance to commonsense reforms — will be moved to action by the trauma Cooper endured and will endure, or by the rest of the pain and carnage inflicted in Highland Park. Seven people were shot to death and more than 30 more were injured in the latest of a wrenching litany of mass shootings that tragically and needlessly has become a defining characteristic of today’s America.
As the Tribune reported, attempts by the Illinois General Assembly to ramp up gun safety in recent years have left behind loopholes that still give people who shouldn’t have guns the ability to obtain, or retain, firearms.
One of those individuals was Gary Martin, who when told by supervisors in 2019 he was being fired, pulled out a .40-caliber handgun and shot to death five people at the Aurora valve manufacturing plant where he worked. As a convicted felon, Martin never should have been allowed to have a gun. His firearm owner’s identification card had been revoked, but there was no follow-up from law enforcement to ensure he had surrendered his handgun.
Last year, we wrote about that unaddressed loophole. “The law that bans people with revoked FOIDs from having guns is already on the books; what has been missing is the means to facilitate enforcement of that law,” we wrote.
The same year that Martin killed five people at his workplace, police deemed Robert Crimo III, the alleged Highland Park shooter, a “clear and present danger.” Police were told Crimo had made threats to “kill everyone,” and officers found more than a dozen knives in his bedroom closet. Months earlier, police were called to the house where Crimo lived because he had allegedly attempted suicide.
But at the time, he did not have an Illinois gun permit, and wasn’t applying for one. Eventually the “clear and present danger” designation was cleared from state recordkeeping, and when Crimo later applied for and was given a FOID card, there was nothing in the state’s records to flag him as a threat. He thus legally bought several firearms, including the Smith & Wesson M&P semi-automatic rifle that prosecutors say he used in the Fourth of July attack.
That’s another gaping loophole. Illinois State Police officials say there’s nothing currently in state law that would have kept Crimo from getting a gun permit and buying firearms. They’re right, which is exactly why lawmakers in Springfield must make rectifying deficiencies in Illinois gun safety laws a top priority.
But the responsibility doesn’t lie solely with lawmakers. Voters must research where candidates running in the November midterm elections stand on strengthening gun safety laws. Does the pain, trauma and difficult future that Cooper faces matter to these candidates? Do the lives lost in Highland Park, in Uvalde, Texas, Buffalo, New York, and countless other sites of mass shootings matter to them?
If not, voters need to know, and they need to keep out of office politicians who don’t embrace sensible gun safety reform.