The New Trier Democrats' panel on gun control turned raucous Sunday, with some members of the audience yelling and interrupting during the speakers.
The panel, which was held at the Glenview Police Station auditorium, was entitled and aimed to discuss issues related to guns, including legislation, victims, conceal and carry laws and the history behind the nation's current laws.
The crowd, which was so big that many attendees were turned away at the door, was largely made up of National Rifle Association (NRA) members and other pro-gun advocates from around the state. Many were there because of an Illinois State Rifle Association email sent out asking members to come, and some were wielding signs of protest reading “Shall not be infringed” and “Pro-second amendment,” while others carried American flags or wore shirts with pro-gun messages on them.
The panel included Mark Walsh of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, Lee Goodman of the Stop Concealed Carry Coalition, Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins of the Million Moms March and Bill Jenkins, author of What to do When the Police Leave: A Guide to the First Days of Traumatic Loss. Attendees were invited to write down questions to be answered at the end of the program, although the speakers were interrupted numerous times by individuals in the crowd, yelling questions and comments.
"A Very Sad and Very Bloody Problem"
Walsh was the first to speak, going over current legislation concerning gun laws. He was followed by Bishop-Jenkins, who spoke about losing her sister and brother-in-law in a 1990 murder in Winnetka. The crowd fell mostly silent as she described her family, as well as the stories of other murder victims.
“I’m here to have a conversation about a problem – a big, very sad and very bloody problem,” Bishop-Jenkins said.
Bill Jenkins, Bishop-Jenkins’ husband, then took the stage to discuss his statistics, as well as the policies of the NRA.
Jenkins, who is a gun owner himself, noted a statistic showing that only 1% of the US population ever brandishes a gun in self-defense, and only .25% of the population actually fires a gun.
The crowd began to yell over Jenkins, arguing with him, until Jack Burleson, a member of the NRA there on a “fact-finding mission” asked them to settle down.
“We are right, and hopefully it will bear out that out that we are right…but let’s be civil here though,” Burleson said.
Goodman was the last panelist to speak, and was booed by the crowd as he came to the podium. He first read an op-ed piece he had written for a newspaper on gun control being about “the babies,” alluding to preventing more children from being murdered. As he spoke, audience members yelled out, asking his views on abortion.
“Our country responds to tragedy, and we’ve had a terrible tragedy in Newtown,” Goodman said, on why the more stringent gun laws would inevitably be passed.
The panel concluded with a question and answer session, which included questions on mental illness, background checks and the death penalty.
"It's a Very Emotional Issue"
“I think it went very well,” said Judy Mandel, New Trier Democrats membership chairwoman and the moderator of the event, who noted that she was disappointed that so many people had to be turned away from attending, because the auditorium filled so early. “I think everyone got their opinions across…it’s hard for people, it’s a very emotional issue.”
Panelist Goodman agreed with Mandel. “It’s a big disappointment that so many people were turned away at the door,” he said. “People have strong emotions…if they would start looking at the victims, they would understand the issue differently – that’s the key, understanding what the families of the victims go through.”
David Earl Williams III, who plans on running for office in the 9th Congressional District, said that he appreciated the opportunity for a lively debate on the subject. “I think the gun-control people should have been more informed – for example, comparing nuclear devices to firearms … Law abiding citizens have the right to defend themselves. But at least a debate was going on.”
The New Trier Democrats do not have any immediate plans to host another panel on gun control, and Mandel notes they’ll probably stick with a “less controversial” topic next time.