GENEVA – U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood offered a ray of hope for pending legislative action to reduce gun violence during a forum in Geneva.
Underwood, D-Naperville, appeared at the invitation of Geneva High School students who recently established a local chapter of March For Our Lives.
More than 100 people filed into Geneva’s First Congregational Church on Aug. 24 to hear Underwood, who has been a relentless advocate for gun control and has hosted numerous forums discussing legislative efforts, including one in Batavia just two months ago.
“It breaks my heart that every time I see you we’ve had another mass shooting,” Underwood said, in reference to the events in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas.
Early next month, Underwood said, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee will be taking action on several gun violence measures.
The Keep Americans Safe Act would place a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines.
Persons deemed a risk to themselves or others would be prevented from gaining access to firearms under the Extreme Risk Protection Order Act.
The Disarm Hate Act would prohibit possession of firearms by persons convicted of misdemeanor hate crimes.
Later in September, the Judiciary Committee will hold hearings on assault weapons, Underwood said.
That is on top of two pieces of gun legislation that were approved in the House earlier this year, but have been stalled in the Senate.
One of the bills would effectively close the so-called “gun-show loophole,” preventing any person who is not a licensed firearm importer, manufacturer or dealer from transferring a firearm to another unlicensed person without a background check. Exceptions would include gifts to family members.
The other bill would extend the waiting period for the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System from the current three days to 10 days for an answer of approval or denial. Under existing law, the transaction may proceed on a default basis if there is no determination from NICS within three business days.
“Universal background checks are sensible and bipartisan,” Underwood said, supported by 97 percent of the public.
Underwood laid the blame at the feet of Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
“We’re talking about one man who stands in the way. Just one,” Underwood said. “I believe if we the people speak out we can make big change.”
Underwood faced the crowd with Geneva High School junior Matthew Ammon, 16, who moderated the discussion.
Ammon and GHS senior Braden Meiners, 17, formed the Geneva March For Our Lives chapter in the wake of the Feb. 16 shooting at the Henry Pratt Company in Aurora.
The two students serve as the group’s co-directors, and said they have about 10 members.
Audience members submitted written questions and Ammon posed them to Underwood.
Topics ranged from white supremacists on social media to education about gun violence in school health classes.
Underwood said social media companies have refused to publicly testify before Congress and should be held to account. She added that lack of a domestic terrorism law means that mass shooters can be charged only under firearm or hate crime statutes.
Gun violence is a public health epidemic, Underwood said, and should be addressed in school health classes. She noted that federal law prohibits the government from collecting data on gun violence, and that she supports measures to provide funding to the Centers for Disease Control to study gun violence as a health threat.
Seated in the crowd were Kathleen and Scott Larimer of Crystal Lake. The couple’s 27-year-old son John was killed in the July 20, 2012 movie theater mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado.
The couple said they believe the political pressure to enact gun control legislation is mounting. Scott Larimer said the issue was given “lip-service at best” in the last election.
“I’m a little more hopeful now,” Kathleen said. “At least it is being discussed more.”
Kathleen Larimer said she hopes to see a ban on assault weapons.
“It seems as if those guns are the weapon of choice among mass shooters,” she said.
GHS freshman Karoline Anthony was wearing a blue March for Our Lives tee-shirt, handing out fliers as people entered the meeting.
“I’m hoping for some community awareness,” Anthony said, noting the group has also been engaged in letter-writing campaigns.
In the audience, her mother, Stephanie Anthony, was wearing a red Moms Demand Action tee-shirt.
“I’m excited to see the kids take some leadership,” Anthony said.
Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns was in attendance. After the forum, Burns made a point of congratulating Ammon on his performance in moderating the session.