Four GOP House members made it clear the Parkland School shooting in Florida should not be why gun bills pass in Springfield.
At an impromptu press conference Wednesday at the Capitol, Reps. Mark Batinick (R-Plainfield), Keith Wheeler (R-Oswego), Barbara Wheeler (R-Crystal Lake) and Grant Wehrli (R-Naperville) got right to the point regarding gun legislation that has sat stagnant in since last year, but since 17 students were killed in the Florida school shooting two weeks ago, Democrats have decided to act.
“We have filed common-sense gun legislation and not in reaction to a crisis,” Wehrli said. “This bill was filed in October of last year and it is a clean common-sense bump stock ban and continues to sit in rules. Today we are going to be forced to vote on legislation that was filed two days ago and cleared committee last night.”
Rep. Grant Wehrli
Barbara Wheeler said GOP lawmakers had hoped the General Assembly would spend thoughtful hours discussing potential legislation that would ultimately lead to a solution for the sake of public safety.
“Unfortunately, Springfield Democrats choose to put politics before policy, ramrodding sloppy legislation, not thorough, not thoughtful and containing far reaching unintended consequences,” she said.
Wheeler cited Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel when she said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste," adding, "Rather than using a crisis for one’s personal political gain, we should use it to illuminate the problems in our current legislation to serve the people we are employed to protect.”
Keith Wheeler brought the point home, sharing how he participated in his child’s school's active shooter drill with some of his staff members.
“You could feel ... the intensity and tension that comes from this issue in the students sitting in the classroom,” he said, adding he was part of the group that was evacuated from the building. “When me and the superintendent walked back in the building it was amazingly eerie because it was the middle of the school day and doors are all shut and locked, the lights are all turned off and you can’t tell where anyone is.”
After the drill, he said researched to find not every school district has active shooter drills.
“We are not up to speed in many districts with what we could and should be doing,” Wheeler said, adding he filed a resolution that encourages every school district to update their policies and training on active shooter drills.
He said it is an important “doable” first step that has real impact. “We skip that all the time here in Springfield, we go right to the emotional response, the reaction part of it, let’s do the doable and come together on one thing,” Wheeler said.
Wehrli said aside from gun bills sitting stagnant in Springfield, “absent in these conversations is mental health concerns and law enforcement response.”
“This is what happens with governance in the state of Illinois, we careen from crisis to crisis and call it governance.” Wehrli said. “Instead what we need to do is sit down and have thoughtful conversations on true reforms that keep the public safe.”
Batinick stepped up to the podium pointing out 75 percent of all mental health issues develop before the age of 24. He like, Rep. Keith Wheeler, has drafted legislation based on the personal experience he has had from a young man he knew growing up committing suicide at the age of 22.
“When your brain is still developing between the ages of 18 and 21 it’s questionable whether (you) should be at the front line of making that purchase,” Batinick said of any individual buying a gun before the age of 21. “It’s a clean 21 to purchase.”
He said the bill already has bipartisan support and “those are the kinds of compromises I think we can work on, and it addresses the age issue and mental health issue.”
The four GOP lawmakers ended the press conference to vote on last-minute legislation.
“Ready and willing to talk about common-sense legislation, yet today unfortunately what we are seeing from the other side of the aisle isn’t that,” Wehrli said.