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Local News

'It was so surreal' - Lipinski discusses Gilroy shooting, gun control

Lipinski talks experience at festival shooting, what legislators should do

Just weeks after surviving the mass shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in California, U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski said the experience has felt more “unreal” with each passing day.

On July 28, a gunman opened fire at the festival, killing three people and wounding a dozen more. Lipinski, D-Western Springs, and his wife, Judy, were visiting the festival while on vacation.

Lipinski said he heard the popping of gunshots. He recalled only hearing such noises in cellphone video of other mass shootings on the news. He and his wife weren’t far from the shooter.

“At the time, it felt so surreal,” he said. “I’m in this and all I’m thinking is, ‘Just run for your life.’ ”

Not even a month later, he said it almost feels like it was a bad dream, but unfortunately, he added, it was real.

Barely a week after the festival shooting, mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, left 29 dead and about 50 wounded within a 24-hour period. Now many of his colleagues have resumed calls for Congress to act.

“Again the nation is shocked,” he said. “Most people say we need to do something.”

Lipinski recalled that, at first, President Donald Trump said he wanted to do something legislatively to address mass shootings, but then appeared to back off in subsequent comments in which he also blamed mental illness.

To the congressman, while the president’s role is significant, predicting what he’ll actually do is difficult.

“I think the president will have an influence on this,” Lipinski said. “If the president is going to support any changes in law, that will make a big difference to get Republicans, to get the Senate, to do anything.”

Lipinski also pointed out that the House of Representatives, which the Democrats control, has already passed a bill to expand background checks earlier this year that the Republican-controlled Senate has yet to take up. He said that he felt the bill has the best chance of passing and getting signed into law, because the House has already passed it and the measure has broad support.

He has heard from constituents, even some who are gun enthusiasts, who have told him that they agree some of the semiautomatic weapons used in the mass shootings shouldn’t be so easily accessible.

Beyond expanded background checks and so-called red flag laws, which would allow for guns to be taken away from individuals who are a deemed a risk to themselves or others, Lipinski said any further measures would be difficult to pass. Still, he has supported bills to ban high-capacity magazines and assault weapons.

As for the more liberal measures proposed by some 2020 presidential candidates, such as a national gun licensing program, Lipinski said he’d prefer to focus on changes that a broader number of Americans support.

“Pushing for something more extreme may make people feel better,” he said. “But we need to focus on getting something done.”

Lipinski said that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was the “biggest impediment” to such gun control measures becoming law. But he also said political divisions within the country also weren’t helping to stop either gun violence or domestic terrorism, adding that responsibility for toning down the rhetoric starts at the top with the president.

Moreover, Lipinski said he didn’t know the chances of the background check bill actually passing the Senate, but understood the frustrations of his constituents at the lack of progress in Washington.

“Congress is barely functional right now,” he said. “And it really is to the detriment of our country and we need to figure out how we’re going to get anything done.”

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