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Roundtable tackles gun violence

Updated: March 2, 2013 12:07PM

WHEELING — Area officials tackled the issue of gun violence Thursday at a session called by freshman Congressman Brad Schneider.

Schneider, finishing his fourth week in Congress, spoke in favor of universal background checks, banning assault weapons and restricting armor-piercing bullets and high-capacity magazines.

The Deerfield Democrat also said he enjoyed skeet shooting, and that any change in Washington would be slow in coming.

“We can’t let ‘perfect’ be the enemy of ‘good,’” the 10th District congressman said. “We won’t get this overnight.”

The roundtable between elected officials and a variety of parties interested in gun control was held at the Wheeling Police Department. Jennifer Bishop Jenkins posed a startling scenario to the other attendees.

“We all know how precious our lives are to us. Imagine being shot.”

Bishop Jenkins leads the Illinois chapter of the Million Mom March and lost her sister and brother-in-law to gunplay. She spoke sternly in favor of nationwide change to reduce armed crimes.

But what form that change should take depended on the perspective of each speaker, all of whom brought up different roots of violence.

Evelyn Chenier, executive director of the Family First Center of Lake County, brought up the Herculean task of changing American culture, starting with parents teaching their children about violence.

“That’s going to be a huge effort, to get families involved,” she said. “I don’t want to lose any rights, but I don’t mind being inconvenienced if it’s going to save a child’s life.”

Nancy Carstedt, the executive director of the National Alliance for Mental Illness’ Cook County chapter, spoke of the role that illness played in December’s massacre in Newtown, Conn. — and warned that Illinois has been cutting back on treatments for years.

“Cook County jail is the largest mental health facility in the state,” Carstedt said.

Tom Vanden Berk, a Brady Campaign Illinois board member, pointed out that the National Rifle Association and other gun lobbies are tightly organized and goal-oriented, while the majority of gun-control advocates are splintered into small groups tugging at parents’ heartstrings.

He sat next to Bishop Jenkins, who wore a large button with a photo of her lost family members on her lapel.

“There is an incredibly organized political force to keep you voting correctly,” Vanden Berk said. “They don’t have the numbers, but they have the organization. Our political system is certainly dependent upon getting re-elected.”

Bishop Jenkins pointed to the cost-savings a government could see from reducing gun-related crime. She said 68 percent of all violent crime in the U.S. involves a firearm.

“For people who care about the money more than the lives, the economic cost is staggering,” she said.

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