U.S. Rep. Bill Foster held a panel discussion about gun violence Wednesday night in Joliet Township.
Foster, D-Naperville, and the panel shared their thoughts about the issue and possible solutions before fielding questions from several audience members at St. John Missionary Baptist Church.
The panel included Mark Jones, a policy adviser for the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, Laurie Summers, the Will County deputy chief coroner, Damien Dougherty, vice president of the Joliet Unity Movement, and Brenda Mitchell a pastor from University Park and member of the Everytown Survival Network.
Foster discussed action taken by the House of Representatives, which is controlled by Democrats, to address gun deaths in the country. The House passed a bill to expand background checks for gun purchases earlier this year, but the Republican-controlled Senate has yet to take it up.
Foster blamed the National Rifle Association for its lobbying efforts to keep such legislation from passing. He called on the Senate to at least pass legislation agreeable to most Americans.
“Do I sound frustrated?” Foster asked. “I guess I am.”
Summers shared data from the coroner’s office on gun deaths in Will County, which have increased from 2018 with still two months of data to be added to this year’s totals.
She said there have been 26 suicides by gunshot so far in 2019. There were 18 suicide deaths by gunshot in 2018. The county has also seen 14 homicide deaths related to guns so far this year, compared with 13 in all of last year. There have also been two accidental gun deaths, compared with one last year.
Still, the panel did get pushback from a few attendees, including Theresa, a Will County resident who did not want to share her full name but challenged the effectiveness of proposed legislation on reducing gun violence.
“How is it affecting the criminals who have committed the crimes?” she asked.
Foster responded by pointing to Gary Martin, who killed five people at Henry Pratt Co. in Aurora earlier this year. Foster said that strengthening requirements for background databases was necessary to ensure individuals who had already committed crimes couldn’t obtain guns.
The congressman said this was an instance in which Congress “has not done a reasonable job.”