It was a beautiful Fourth of July morning in Illinois.
A little humid, sure, but it’s what we’re used to for summer in the Midwest. Families across Chicagoland lined the streets clad in red, white, and blue for local celebrations—the first of many since before the pandemic in 2019—ready to celebrate life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in this country.
I was gearing up for a parade in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, followed by another in Evanston later that afternoon.
Then, the unimaginable happened.
The terror of gun violence tore through Highland Park, Illinois, claiming the lives of seven innocent parade-goers and injuring dozens more.
Once again, like in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York, someone with an AR-15-style assault weapon stole the lives of our friends, our family, our neighbors.
When I watched one of the videos captured during the parade attack, I recognized the cadence of the bullets. The last time I heard a weapon of that capacity firing that quickly on the Fourth of July was fighting a war in Iraq.
Assault weapons like the one used in Highland Park have no business being on our streets. Anyone who has carried a M4 into combat knows the power these kinds of firearms have. These are weapons of war that simply don’t belong in the hands of civilians.
The scourge of gun violence is an epidemic in this country. Whether it’s watching a Fourth of July Parade, sending our kids to school, going to a grocery store, a movie theater, a church, or even just walking down our streets, Americans shouldn't have to fear the threat of gun violence every single day.
It happens everywhere in our country—not just in Uvalde, not just in Buffalo, and not just in Highland Park. This is a uniquely American crisis that impacts every community from Aurora, Illinois, to Aurora, Colorado. Low income communities, high income communities, inner cities, suburbs, and rural areas are all impacted. Gun violence is so prevalent in America that it only rises to national coverage when a large enough number of people are murdered in one event.
Over the same holiday weekend, Chicago’s death toll climbed even higher than the devastation seen in Highland Park, but the national outcry was nowhere to be seen.
In Chicago neighborhoods, gun violence is all too common and these everyday deaths don’t receive the attention they demand. We’ve grown numb and are desensitized—even as kids’ lives are being stolen and survivors’ innocence is being lost.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Enough was enough a long time ago. It was enough after Las Vegas. It was enough after Orlando. It was enough after Sandy Hook. Every life lost to gun violence is one death too many.
Last month, we proved that bipartisan compromise on gun safety is possible. For the first time in decades, we signed into law, on the federal level, provisions to help keep us safer.
But we can’t stop there. Our lives, and our children’s lives, depend on it.
We can’t stop until, at the very least, we ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines at the federal level.
Because Highland Park had done everything right. They have an assault weapons ban. But it can't stop someone from going outside the city, purchasing one of these weapons, and taking it right into the places where the residents had already said, “We don't want these weapons here.”
Action on the federal level won’t be easy because national Republicans continue to seem more concerned with cashing checks from the gun lobby than protecting the safety of Americans.
Our razor-thin majority for Democrats in the Senate simply is too small. And even though I’m ready to suspend the filibuster to pass life-saving legislation, right now we don’t have the support we need.
I’m mad as hell about it. And I know parents across the country are too.
I’m sick over the thought of raising my two daughters in a country where I have to think about sending them to school with ballistic protective backpacks.
But we can’t, and we won’t give up. It’s time to let every elected official know where we stand as a country on gun reform and that if they’re not willing to act in the best interest of their fellow Americans, they don’t deserve their job come November.
If you’re angry right now, you should be. But don’t let these feelings fade away as the memory of yet another national tragedy fades into the background.
Because Highland Park wasn't the first, and it won’t be the last. All too soon, we’ll come together again to mourn lives ripped away from us unfairly somewhere else in this country. We’ll wonder, again, what needs to happen to make a difference.
The difference begins now, and it doesn’t stop until November 8. We must turn this anger into votes for Democrats who will support common-sense gun safety reforms up and down the ballot, across the country, ensuring Americans are represented by politicians who actually care if their families are safe.
Maybe you’ve never voted in a midterm—or you’ve voted in every one—no matter what, we have to turn our emotion into action. For our kids. For our communities. For our country.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth is the junior senator for Illinois, a veteran, and a mom of two young girls. She retired from the Reserve Forces at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel after 23 years of service. She previously served two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and was the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs in the Obama Administration.
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