Here’s some advice for young gun control activists: Don’t trust your parents | On Politics | Chicago Reader

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Here’s some advice for young gun control activists: Don’t trust your parents

Boomers have messed things up pretty good. Hopefully the next generation can force our leaders to do the right thing.


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Liz Gomez took part in a press conference Monday urging Governor Bruce Rauner to sign legislation calling for licensing for Illinois gun dealers and background checks for gun shop employees. - SCOTT OLSON/GETTY
  • Scott Olson/Getty
  • Liz Gomez took part in a press conference Monday urging Governor Bruce Rauner to sign legislation calling for licensing for Illinois gun dealers and background checks for gun shop employees.

With high-schoolers from across the area getting ready to hit Chicago's streets this week and on March 24 to demand sensible gun laws, the time has come for me to give these youngsters some avuncular advice and history lessons.

First the advice . . .

(1) Don't trust your parents, at least when it comes to Chicago politics. In all likelihood they voted for Mayor Rahm. Nothing more need be said.

(2) Don't trust me, even as I'm giving you this avuncular advice. After all, it was my baby-boomer generation, in days of yore brimming with youthful idealism to end war and promote civil rights, that wound up electing President Trump, Governor Rauner, and Rahm. Talk about messing things up.

In my defense, I voted for none of them.

So: (3) Don't be too discouraged when nothing goes right, despite your best intentions. Hey, man, I tried to tell your parents not to vote for Rahm.

Anyway, the next generation of activists is on my mind since my recent chats with Emerson Toomey, a 17-year-old senior at Lane Tech who's one of the local leaders of the burgeoning nationwide student movement for gun control.

The movement began after the February 14 shootings in Parkland, Florida, where a monster armed with a AR-15 semiautomatic rifle gunned down 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Toomey and her allies are bringing together students from high schools and colleges throughout the Chicago area for a rally Saturday, March 24, at 10:30 AM in Union Park, followed by a march downtown. She was also involved in a demonstration on Wednesday in which students walked out of class in protest.

“We want sensible gun laws,” says Toomey. “But eventually, we want to address the root of the problems—cycles of poverty and mental illness.”

Excellent ideas. And now for that history lesson.

Among the many things my generation has made a mess of is mental health treatment, especially here in Chicago.

In fact, although Mayor Emanuel has been in favor of stronger gun laws, in one of his first acts in office, he closed six mental health clinics in low-income, high-crime areas.

The mayor had many enablers—as in all the members of the City Council, which unanimously approved those closings in the infamous 2011 budget vote.

In defense of the aldermen, that budget vote came on the eve of the ward redistricting. Eager to win a unanimous vote on his first budget, the mayor let the aldermen know that if they didn't vote yes—clinic closings and all—he might redraw them out of their wards.

So it was either help people in high-crime areas or save their own asses. Then the mayor had the police spy on people protesting the clinic closings. You can always count on our mayor to take a bad thing and make it worse.

In terms of gun laws—the Illinois house and senate have passed the Gun Dealer Licensing Act, a sensible bill that would require gun dealers to take training courses and pay for licenses.

The bill number is SB1657—you can look it up on the Illinois General Assembly's website to see how your representative or senator voted.

If they voted against it, you might want to give them a call and ask why. Most likely they'll tell you that they don't want the bill to be too restrictive on small businesses.

Have you never noticed that every time the Republicans kill good or pass bad legislation (like the recent federal tax break for the superrich), they say they’re doing it for small businesses?

I'm waiting for them to explain how giving $2.25 billion to Amazon, one of the world's wealthiest companies, is good for small business.

The house passed the gun dealer bill on February 28. But Governor Rauner still won't say whether he'll sign it into law. So I suggest all the young activists call the governor to ask why.

That will be your introduction to the difference between a politician's stated and unstated answers to a question.

Rauner's stated answer is that he's carefully studying the bill. Or as he recently told inquiring reporters: "We need to have a good conversation about how do we keep our citizens safer, how do we protect our students, our children, our families."

Yes, but about that gun dealer bill?

"This should be done on a bipartisan basis. I believe we need to come together and we can come together to do a number of things."

Blah, blah, blah and so forth.

Obviously, Rauner's unstated reason has to do with the fact that he's in the midst of a heated reelection campaign against state representative Jeanne Ives, who's running at him from the right. And Rauner knows that if he signs the gun dealer bill, he'll enrage the rabid Republican base.

And they're already plenty enraged at him for signing HB40, the reproductive rights bill. In that bill, he was for it, then against it, then for it again. Thus earning the nickname Governor Flip-Flop.

My bet is he'll hold off on the gun dealer bill until after the March 20 primary, which he'll probably win. At that point, he'll have to ask himself a vexing question: Which bloc of voters can I least afford to offend? The rabid gun-loving base, or the young students begging him to sign the bill?

So the only thing he'll be studying will be the polls as he tries to figure out which group he can least afford to alienate. It's HB40 all over again.

Well, enough history lesson for today—as I've managed to thoroughly depress myself once again.

Despite my jaded tone, I think Emerson Toomey and her high school allies are heroes, and I'm rooting for them 100 percent.

At their March 24 rally, I'll be the boomer in the Bulls hat, waving his freak flag and hoping like hell that this generation is the one that finally gets things right.  v

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