By Sara Burnett
CHICAGO — Even as the homicide rate has dropped in Chicago, violence remains one of the city’s top problems, and concerns also are heightened in other communities across Illinois.
The Associated Press asked the candidates for Illinois governor a series of questions about how they’d address the issue.
Six Democrats are seeking their party’s nomination on March 20: state Sen. Daniel Biss, businessman Chris Kennedy, billionaire J.B. Pritzker, regional schools superintendent Bob Daiber, activist Tio Hardiman and physician Robert Marshall. In the Republican primary, Gov. Bruce Rauner faces a challenge from state Rep. Jeanne Ives.
Here’s a look at their answers:
Q: What is your overall approach to curbing violence?
Biss: It’s imperative to reduce all kinds of violence, including domestic violence by funding services to support victims and ensuring they can access health care, legal advice and other resources without their abusers knowing. We must also invest in our communities to prevent crime and violence, by fully funding schools and creating jobs. Biss is co-sponsoring the Gun Dealer Licensing Act to help “end the epidemic of gun violence ravaging our communities.” He supports restricting the number of guns that can be purchased within a designated time span and enacting a Lethal Violence Order of Protection to disqualify domestic abusers from owning firearms. Biss also wants to fully fund prevention and intervention programs, expand access to mental health care and pass Medicare-for-All in Illinois.
Kennedy: Opportunity is the enemy of violence and violence won’t be stemmed unless we transform our most affected neighborhoods from places where people are merely trying to survive to communities where they can thrive. He’s proposed an eight-point plan that includes a few overarching areas: Treating violence as a public health issue by providing community-based services like mental health and trauma treatment; Advancing gun safety legislation like requiring gun dealers to be licensed and adopting a statewide gun tracing program, among other measures; Revitalizing communities most impacted by gun violence by reinvesting in schools, local economic development, and community policing; and, Adopting criminal justice reforms and expanding restorative justice. “Our prisons should not simply be about punishment,” he says. “They should be about redemption as well.”
Pritzker: Far too many communities across this state are all too familiar with gun violence, especially in Chicago. I would adopt a public health approach to addressing the violence. First, we need to make sure that communities across Illinois are growing and thriving economically so that people don’t feel like they have to turn to violence. Pritzker wants to work with neighboring states to prevent gun trafficking and pass the Gun Dealer Licensing Bill, requiring criminal background checks for gun dealers and employees, documentation and record keeping of every customer’s firearm identification card, and steps to keep gun stores secure and train employees to stop straw purchases. He also says “We must increase access to mental health and social services so that people don’t resort to gun violence.”
Daiber: I support initiating a statewide mentoring program from middle school through high school to link at-risk youth with corporate members to curtail street crime. The initiative has begun in Madison County, he says, and in its second year is showing results. He supports providing training and opportunities through the Workforce Investment Opportunities Act to provide training for the unemployed and the underemployed who may be involved in crime to find good-paying jobs and increasing the minimum wage to encourage legitimate work. He says a 2016 study by the White House Council of Economic Advisors concluded a $12 minimum wage would reduce crime, calling it the break-even point for many criminals to become non-criminals. He also would provide training to police departments on neighborhood policing, to understand neighborhoods.
Hardiman: The gun violence problem in Chicago is a Black Community problem more than a police problem. The police can only do so much to reduce gun violence in Chicago and throughout Illinois. Over 85 percent of all killings in Chicago occur in the African American community. It’s incumbent upon black leadership to deal with this issue and bring the young people to the table of peace. I will command an audience with high-risk individuals to carve out a long-lasting solution to ending gun violence in Illinois. We must get out of response mode and become more proactive. I also plan to work closely with the ATF to design a strategy to help stop the illegal gun trade in Illinois.
Marshall: Reduce violence by taking money out of the drug trade. Legalize pot as in Colorado and other places and decriminalize cocaine and opioids so medical community can treat addicts as patients rather than criminals.
Ives: Public safety is the first responsibility of government at every level. In Chicago and at the state level, the political ruling class has failed us. We need to think holistically about law enforcement. Give police, prosecutors, public defenders and judges the resources they need and hold them accountable for performance. Sanctuary city and state designations, the absence of police, the failure to clear violent crime cases, the turnstile justice of light sentences for violent criminals who commit crimes with guns are received by the small numbers of violent criminals in our communities as signs of weakness. Two other issues is alternative sentencing for nonviolent offenders and reforms to licensing laws that provide opportunities for ex-offenders who have served their time and been rehabilitated to be productive, self-sufficient citizens.
Rauner: Bruce Rauner is a hunter and gun owner. He supports law-abiding citizens’ constitutional right to legally purchase and own guns after a background check. Understanding the need for action to curb violence, the governor signed a bill into law last year — supported by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Police Department Superintendent Eddie Johnson — that cracks down on repeat offenders of gun crimes. But firearms are only part of the problem of violence in Illinois communities. What’s needed is genuine, bipartisan collaboration to find common-sense solutions that keep guns out of the hands of violent criminals and the mentally ill, bring resources and modern policing tactics to law enforcement statewide, and support better schools and more economic opportunity for communities affected by crime.
Q: Do you support legislation to license businesses that sell guns?
All Democrats said they support a measure pending in the Legislature, with Biss signing on as a co-sponsor.
“It doesn’t make any sense that you need a license to sell a service like cutting hair, but not one that sells guns,” Kennedy says.
On the Republican side, Ives says businesses that sell guns are already strictly licensed and regulated and “it is naive of anyone to say differently.”
Rauner says he opposes efforts to license firearms dealers at the state level because dealers already are regulated at the federal level. He says adding more red tape would be duplicative and raise costs for small businesses that ultimately would be passed on to “law-abiding citizens seeking to purchase firearms for the purposes of home defense, hunting, and recreational shooting.”
Q: Do you support a ban on assault weapons, high-capacity magazines or bump stocks such as the one used in last year’s Las Vegas shooting?
Rauner says his general philosophy comes from a bumper sticker he saw while hunting downstate that read: “If you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns.” He supports “common-sense restrictions that keep assault weapons and high capacity magazines out of the hands of criminals and people with mental illness while safeguarding the 2nd Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens” and is open to legislation specifically banning bump stocks.
Ives says she supports GOP legislation limiting bump stocks. But high-capacity magazines “matter little in the gun debate” because most gun crimes are committed with handguns, “for which there is a natural limit to the capacity of the magazine.” She says “You cannot talk about assault weapons without defining the term” because there are a dozen definitions of assault rifles and “throwing around terms without defining them feeds the hysteria of those who oppose all private ownership of guns.”
All Democrats support bans on all three items, with Daiber saying high-capacity magazines and bump stocks should only be banned outside of firing ranges.
Q: Would you deploy the National Guard to areas experiencing high rates of violent crime?
All Democrats and Ives said no. Rauner said it “should only be done in the most extreme circumstances. We don’t live in a military state.”