Fireworks sales in Illinois are pretty strictly regulated — and yet around any holiday it’s easy to see or hear them going off at all hours of the night.
Any Chicagoan knows that Illinois’ ban on fireworks is only as strong as the mere minutes it takes to drive to Indiana, where weak fireworks laws allow for dozens of fireworks stores just over the border.
Too often these days, when we hear that pop of a firework, we fear it could be something else: gunfire. And you can’t blame us. We’re past seeing a shooting every day. We’ve now gotten to the point where local news stations start their week by posting roundups of the sometimes dozens of people shot over the weekend. And poll after poll during our recent mayoral election showed that crime was the number one issue for voters.
But just like the source of the fireworks we see on Chicago streets, the answer for how so many criminals get their hands on guns despite our strong gun laws comes down to the city’s proximity to Indiana.
When criminals in Chicago need guns, Indiana is often the answer. According to a report from the City of Chicago, Indiana was the primary source for over one out of every five crime guns recovered here. One Indiana gun store alone, Westforth Sports, just over the border in Gary, has been responsible for “hundreds if not thousands” of guns used in crimes, according to a lawsuit filed by the City of Chicago.
Part of the reason is simple: Indiana doesn’t require background checks on all gun sales and allows the unfettered sale of assault weapons made for war zones to untrained civilians. Indiana’s lax gun laws are a threat to that state’s public safety and to Chicago’s as well.
But what’s happening in Indiana this weekend explains just how bad things have gotten: The NRA is actually coming to Indianapolis to celebrate its agenda of lax gun laws during its annual meeting of members.
The NRA often has pointed to Chicago’s crime rates as an example of gun safety laws not working, and yet the organization is holding a party in Indiana, cheering on the weak gun laws that supply so many of the guns used in crimes in our city. The only solace I take is knowing that in courtrooms, in Congress, in statehouses across the country, and even in their checking account, the NRA and this deadly agenda is starting to lose.
In the face of alleged mismanagement, the NRA has reportedly lost over a million members and revenue has dropped by nearly a third. The organization still faces a massive lawsuit in New York that could result in the removal of the organization’s leadership.
Last summer, despite the NRA’s objections, Congress passed the first gun safety legislation in nearly 30 years, breaking a logjam on federal action on this issue. Here in Illinois, our leaders passed a suite of gun safety measures opposed by the NRA earlier this year, including strengthening Illinois’ Firearm Restraining Order law, which prevents someone from buying a gun — no matter the state they’re in — after a judge finds them to be a risk to themselves or others.
As a volunteer with my local chapter of Moms Demand Action, I’m a part of a movement that pushes for stronger gun laws at every level of government, because I’m fed up with the daily gun violence that has consumed our cities. I got involved in this movement in 2005, after my son Kenneth Mitchell, Jr., was shot and killed in the southern suburbs of Matteson — and I have continued to allow my pain to have purpose, becoming a part of something bigger than myself to orchestrate the change we all hope to see.
We can’t change how close Chicago is to Indiana, but we can show the NRA’s leaders that they represent a small fraction of gun owners in this country. And we can strengthen our gun laws from coast to coast. We are tired of burying our children because of this Indiana-to-Chicago pipeline.
Brenda Mitchell is the state chapter co-leader for Moms Demand Action in Illinois and a senior fellow with the Everytown Survivor Network. She is also an ordained pastor and serves on the Everytown Faith Advisory Council.
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