As it relates to gun control, Highland Park’s Rachel Jacoby has long preached that Generation Z deserves a seat at the table.
On Tuesday evening in the state’s capital, the 26-year-old and other gun-control advocates had the best seat in the house, standing behind Gov. J.B. Pritzker as he made Illinois the ninth state to ban assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines.
“I was overcome with a rush of emotion,” Jacoby said of her feelings when the bill was signed. “I think this bill will save lives and could have saved lives in Highland Park and will in Chicago and Waukegan and everywhere in Illinois. It is a huge, historic win.”
The new law is effective immediately and makes it illegal to sell, make or purchase military-style weapons and ammunition cartridges in Illinois. Residents who already own any banned items may keep them but must register them with the Illinois State Police. Full text of the law can be found HERE.
Pritzker signed the bill just a couple hours after it was approved by the state’s house of representatives. In his response comments to the media, Pritzker paid tribute to the victims of the mass shooting that occurred on July 4, 2022, in Highland Park, when a rooftop gunman used a now-banned rifle to shoot dozens of paradegoers, killing seven.
Pritzker read their names aloud: Katherine Goldstein, 64, of Highland Park; Irina McCarthy, 35, of Highland Park; Kevin McCarthy, 37, of Highland Park; Stephen Straus, 88, of Highland Park; Jacki Sundheim, 63, of Highland Park; Nicolas Toledo-Zaragoza, 78, of Morelos, Mexico; and Eduardo Uvaldo, 69, of Waukegan.
The tragedy in Highland Park reenergized the discussion of an assault-weapons ban in Illinois, and State Rep. Bob Morgan (D-Deerfield), who attended the Highland Park parade on July 4, sponsored the bill also known as the Protect Illinois Communities Act on Dec. 1, 2022.
Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering has been a compelling voice for stricter gun laws, including a state assault weapons ban, in the wake of July 4 and quickly issued a statement when the bill was signed.
“Today marks another milestone in our journey forward as a community and as a state,” she said in the statement. “… This bill will help to reduce the carnage, diminish the fear, and alleviate the suffering of Illinoisans. Thousands of Illinois residents reached out to lawmakers in Springfield in support of an assault weapons ban. We, the people, appreciate that you listened to our cry for help.”
Communities across the nation, including many of the town’s neighbors, came to the support of Highland Park in the aftermath of the tragedy. Municipalities including Wilmette and Winnetka made formal pleas to state lawmakers to pass stricter gun laws.
Much of the ground work to pass the law was done by advocates like Jacoby, of March For Our Lives, and Lauren Harper, co-lead and legislative lead for the New Trier Township chapter of Moms Demand Action.
Harper, of Winnetka, said she had spent the last two weeks away from home and had not slept in days as she and her advocacy colleagues helped push the assault-weapons ban across the finish line. And on Tuesday night, she was standing behind Pritzker with a gun-violence survivor to her right and a gun-violence survivor to her left.
“It was the honor of a lifetime to watch the culmination of all this work get signed into law … and know that this is actually going to save lives,” Harper said. “You can’t buy an assault weapon in Illinois today. You can’t. You can’t buy a weapon of war. How awesome is that.”
The tragedy in Highland Park may be responsible for the bill’s momentum, but Harper and Jacoby emphasized that the law addresses more than just mass shootings. It takes on gun violence across the state.
That said, to Jacoby, the law’s passage is a meaningful moment for her and her fellow Highland Parkers.
“Of course it is not just about Highland Park but for people in my community this legislation is a service of hope and light that has come out of a devastating tragedy that was only six months ago,” she said. ” … So many people in this community put so much of themselves into fighting for this legislation. We did it because our instinctual response was to make sure no other community has to experience the pain and trauma we’ve had to experience.”
In that context, the fight is far from over for advocates like Jacoby and Harper.
With a major milestone crossed off, they move on to other goals, such as addressing “the root causes of gun violence,” such as inequality, systemic racism, irresponsible gun ownership and other “reasons gun violence is so embedded in our society,” Jacoby said.