After Highland Park Shooting, a Look at Local Gun Laws and Firearms Access

Communities across the northern suburbs continue to mourn the victims of Monday’s mass shooting in Highland Park. As neighbors remember those lost and offer their support to survivors, advocates for stricter gun laws are also organizing to call for changes. 

Just under a month ago, the Highland Park chapter of March for our Lives organized an anti-gun violence rally at Sunset Woods Park – the same location of a candlelight vigil Thursday – following mass shootings in Uvalde, Buffalo, and Tulsa among others. Attendees then marched through Highland Park, including right through the site of this past weekend’s shooting. 

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Organizer Rachel Jacoby says about 400 people came out to show their support for tighter restrictions on firearms. 

“Illinois, and Highland Park specifically, have really strict gun laws … our neighbors don’t,” Jacoby said. “Because Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, and Iowa have much more lax gun laws, that makes all of us in danger, because someone can easily cross the border and get access to a gun that they wouldn’t be able to have access to here in Illinois.” 

Jacoby wants to see action at a federal level, with things like universal background checks for gun buyers. 

Some local municipalities have tough gun restrictions – Highland Park and neighboring Deerfield both have assault weapons bans. So do Cook County and the city of Chicago to the south. 

But putting local gun regulations in place isn’t a sure thing. In 2013, Illinois was forced by the courts to pass a law allowing concealed carry. That law also tied the hands of home rule municipalities from putting future gun restrictions into place if they didn’t currently have any on the books. 

Attorney Richard Kates, a former Winnetka trustee, says that village met quickly before a narrow window closed. 

“We concentrated on safe storage, so you ... could have guns but you had to keep them under lock and key, and have heavy security so that a child, for instance, couldn’t get into them… (and) the use of a weapon, the transportation of a weapon, and had some strict restrictions on assault weapons,” Kates said. 

Kates says it’s unfortunate that some municipalities can’t enact local gun restrictions, especially since they have limited control over the General Assembly. 

“Anything can happen with the state legislature. It’s important that locally, we maintain our rights to legislate in this area,” Kates said. 

Despite various state and local restrictions, the accused shooter in the Highland Park mass shooting was able to legally buy at least one of the guns recovered after the shooting. 

He reportedly bought it online and picked it up at Red Dot Arms in far north suburban Lake Villa, according to the Daily Beast and CBS 2. Employees at the store refused to comment to WTTW News and would not confirm or deny that the alleged shooter picked up a weapon there. 

Video: Watch our full interview with Eric Rinehart

Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart says it’s time to restore a nationwide ban on assault weapons. 

“There can’t be another town going through this in a few days or in a few weeks. We must stop this,” Rinehart said. “There can’t be any more victims. Whatever it takes to do that.” 

North suburban firearms expert and concealed carry trainer Marcus Melnick says he doesn’t support restrictions like assault weapons bans, calling them ineffective. 

“Nobody in firearms culture wants someone who should not have access to firearms to get access to firearms. The FOID card does that. There are firearms instructors and professionals out there who say, ‘Well, that’s still an infringement.’ At the same time, it is a background check on everyone. If the system works correctly and the reporting is done correctly, that is supposed to limit gun ownership by people who shouldn’t own firearms,” Melnick said. 

As for whether the system worked correctly in the case of the accused Highland Park shooter, who police had previously been flagged as potentially dangerous, Melnick says further investigation will offer insight into whether things went as they should. And he says despite calls for tighter gun laws, learning to carry a firearm has effects beyond just self-defense. 

“It changes the way someone carries themselves. It also makes them ... more aware of their surroundings so that they can avoid trouble,” Melnick said. 

But that outlook isn’t likely to sway advocate Rachel Jacoby and other like-minded folks. March For Our Lives Highland Park is planning another rally on Saturday. Jacoby says it’s important not to become desensitized to mass shootings. 

“We need to remember that this isn’t normal,” Jacoby said. “Living with this kind of gun violence and under this type of threat from gun violence isn’t normal. We all have the power to do something about it and to make our community safe from gun violence.” 

Video: Watch our full interview with Liza Tack

Liza Tack agrees. She co-organized a candlelight vigil and rally Thursday evening.

“I’ve been organizing and marching ... for as long as I can remember, but never has it hit my hometown quite like it just did,” Tack said. “I really wanted to make sure that everyone in the community has a safe space to gather and mourn during this difficult period.”

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