AFTER VEGAS: Divisions remain on how to respond to gun crimes

 

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Democratic congressional candidates in Illinois' 13th District, which includes Champaign-Urbana, voiced cautious support Monday for gun control measures, including restrictions on purchases by those with a history of mental illness.

But incumbent Rep. Rodney Davis, a Taylorville Republican, declined to address the issue, saying he didn't want to "politicize a tragedy."

Davis, who has been endorsed by the National Rifle Association and has supported many NRA positions, released the following statement:

"Families from across our nation are mourning the loss of nearly 60 of their loved ones, praying for the recovery of hundreds more who were injured, and thanking God that countless others are safe. I join these families in prayer and condemn this senseless act of violence. As someone who recently experienced a gun attack, I will never politicize a tragedy, and I am disappointed by those who do," he said.

"Today is a time for prayer, for mourning, for recognizing the heroic acts of first responders and others, and for uniting as Americans. We can have policy discussions another day."

Davis was on a baseball field in Alexandria, Va., in June when James Hodgkinson, an Illinois resident, opened fire on Republican members of Congress and critically wounded House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., and injured four other people. Davis later appeared on several national television news shows to decry "political hateful rhetoric."

Meanwhile, Urbana Democrat Jon Ebel, one of four challengers to Davis, said Monday that he supported mandatory background checks for gun purchasers and other "reasonable restrictions."

"The big thing is that I would support talking about gun control consistently, not just when there is a horrific incident like this, because the reality is that about 90 people die as a result of gun violence every week. So what we saw yesterday, as horrible as it is, is a weekly occurrence, although it doesn't always happen in one place," said Ebel, a University of Illinois professor of religion.

"I support mandatory background checks for those who are buying guns and the sorts of reasonable restrictions — those who have a history of, or who are under restraining orders for domestic violence, not being able to have guns. And those with a history of mental illness," he said.

"I think the vast majority of Americans find those gun positions acceptable and don't see them at all in conflict with the Second Amendment, which lays out very clearly the right to keep and bear arms. But like any right, it's not an absolute right. It's not a right that trumps the safety and wellbeing of all Americans."

David Gill, a Bloomington physician who in the past has called himself pro-gun, said he supports "background checks on every purchase, without exception. I also support banning the sale of gun magazines that hold more than 10 rounds at a time."

And Democrat Betsy Londrigan of Springfield said "doing nothing should not be an option."

"Today, my thoughts are with the victims of the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas and their families who now have had their lives forever altered," she said in a statement. "I am in awe of and deeply grateful for the bravery demonstrated by law enforcement and first responders. Unfortunately, we face days like this in our country all too often — waking up to reports of senseless violence — and fearing that Washington politicians won't do the hard work necessary to unify us and make us safer."

She said that while there is "a history of responsible gun ownership for sport, hunting and self-protection, it's clear that we have a real problem in our country.

"Democrat, Republican, gun owner, non-gun owner — we can work together to uphold our Constitutional rights and protect our communities from those who intend to do harm with their weapons. We can close loopholes allowing criminals and the dangerously mentally ill to purchase firearms. We can make sure those experiencing mental health issues have access to quality care and affordable insurance to maintain treatment. One thing that is clear is that doing nothing should not be an option."

Erik Jones of Edwardsville did not respond to emails seeking comment.

Ebel said that he grew up among outdoorsmen in Minnesota and wouldn't want to restrict their rights.

"They're people who went hunting every November when deer hunting season opened. They're wonderful people. They would never hurt a flea," he said.

And he noted that the 13th District is filled with gun owners, both Republicans and Democrats.

"I think this is something that really matters in our district because Democratic voters are not a monolith," he said. "It's definitely an issue that people are concerned about and I do hear about it."

Columnist

Tom Kacich is a columnist and the author of Tom's Mailbag at The News-Gazette. His column appears Sundays. His email is tkacich@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@tkacich).