In an attempt to call attention to the city’s increasing violence, a coalition of Chicago clergy announced an effort Friday to gather 100,000 signatures on a petition to support legislation that would require gun owners statewide to register their weapons.
The citywide petition drive, starting this weekend and continuing until the state legislature reconvenes in November, seeks to send a message to elected officials that the owners of assault weapons should have to register the devices, said the Rev. Ira J. Acree, who helped organize the movement.
“Our sons and daughters are dying and being gunned down,” said Acree, who is pastor of Greater St. John Bible Church in Austin, a community that has been hit hard by gun violence. “Rifles, AK-47’s and machine guns should not be in the hands of ordinary citizens. Nobody needs an assault weapon that was made for the military.”
Chicago residents already register their firearms since the city allowed handgun ownership for the first time in decades in 2010 after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the city’s handgun ban.
The petition drive was intended to draw attention to the problem of violence and shootings in Chicago, said Father Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Church in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood.
“We want to engage and empower members of our congregations to now get involved to combat this violence that is plaguing the city,” he said. “A lot of times people feel like they don’t know what to do. They feel almost paralyzed.
“We’re not saying take guns away from people. We’re saying make them responsible. Title them like a car. Treat guns the same way we treat cars.”
House Bill 5831 would, among other things, prohibit anyone from carrying or possessing a handgun that is not registered.
But the legislation, introduced in February, faces a tough road in Springfield, where gun control issues often result in geographic differences of opinion. Downstate lawmakers tend to oppose stricter gun regulations, city lawmakers support them and suburban lawmakers split.
The Chicago Clergy Coalition is made up of almost 130 ministers of all faiths from throughout the city.
On Friday, about 35 of them gathered at St. James Cathedral to announce the petition effort.
Homicides in the city have increased by 32 percent through Aug. 26, the city’s most recent figures show.
At the press conference, the Rev. Kevin Bruursema of New Life Community Church in Lincoln Park criticized Mayor Rahm Emanuel for recent comments he made about gang violence.
But the group of ministers fell short of condemning the mayor and called him an ally in their battle.
“When the city is bleeding, it’s the whole city, not just one part,” Bruursema said. “He said it’s gangs against gangs. We can do a lot better than that. When a son is gunned down in Pilsen, Little Village or Englewood, it’s a loss for the entire city.”