Several members of the Illinois congressional delegation heard testimony about gun violence – and legislation addressing it – Thursday at Kennedy-King College.
The hearing was held by the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Health subcommittee.
Some of the conversation centered around a bill that Rep. Robin Kelly (D-2nd District) introduced over the winter. HR 1114 would require the U.S. Surgeon General to submit an annual report to Congress on the public health impacts and costs of gun violence.
“We cannot be limited to the immediate impacts of bullets on the human body. We know that gun violence takes an emotional and psychological toll on communities,” Kelly said. “In some parts of my district, young people experience levels of PTSD on par with returning veterans because of regular gun violence. Simply addressing easy access to guns will not solve all the challenges in these communities.”
Kelly likens a gun violence report to a 1964 report from the Surgeon General on smoking and public health which revolutionized the way the communities view tobacco use.
Among those testifying before the congressional panel, composed of mostly Illinois representatives, was Pastor Brenda K. Mitchell, whose son Kenneth D. Mitchell Jr. was killed by gun violence in 2005.
“I ask Congress to put forth more research into trauma, and when we talk about trauma, to move it from being a mental health issue because I don’t identify with mental health. But I do identify with being traumatized, and having my heart ripped out of my chest,” she told the subcommittee.
“We must understand this violence is a public health issue and a public health crisis, and as such, we should address it with the same urgency that we do for Ebola or any other disease we know we can treat,” said Dr. Selwyn Rogers Jr., trauma chief and founding director of the trauma center at University of Chicago Medicine.
“The perpetrator and future victims were students at one time in the Chicago Public Schools. If we can create an environment that in those particular schools, that teaches morals, character, good citizenship during their formative years, we’ll be able to save hundreds, even thousands of lives,” said Spencer Leak Sr., CEO of Leak and Sons Funeral Home.
At one point during the hearing, Chicago Police officers and college security escorted a man from the room for disrupting the testimony.
“This is a congressional hearing, you must hear the public. You not hearing the public,” he yelled while officers surrounded him. “You’re hearing a staged, fake meeting. Ask these young people what’s happening.”
The hearing was paused for a moment during that outburst, but the question and answer period resumed after the man was escorted out of the room.
U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., clarified that the purpose of the hearing was to hear formal testimony from professionals on the panel. She added that Congress members host district town halls where the public can be heard.
Panelists discussed possible steps to curb gun violence, like encouraging violence interruption programs.
U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger—the lone Republican on the panel, thus making it bipartisan—has made the case for raising the gun-purchasing age to 21.
While the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump was not the topic of discussion, many reporters had questions about it for Kinzinger.
He said he thinks Democrats have jumped to conclusions on impeachment, and that they began the inquiry without the actual whistleblower complaint or transcript of Trump’s phone call with the Ukrainian president.
He does agree there are some outstanding questions that need answering, one of them related to the involvement of the president’s personal attorney, Rudy Guiliani.
“That was one of my questions: ‘What role did he play?’ If it’s simply a role as the president’s lawyer, there may be some wiggle room there, I don’t know,” he told reporters. “But that’s one of the questions that need to be answered, in terms of what that is. I don’t know, and I think to jump to any conclusions right now would be to do the same thing I’m accusing Democrats of, which is jumping to a conclusion before you have everything.”
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