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Illinois Democrats in Congress call for action after Texas school shooting

Senator Dick Durbin via Facebook

In the wake of the 27th school shooting of 2022, Democrats in Congress are asking for more than thoughts and prayers. After the death of 19 children in Uvalde, Texas, today’s discussions on Capitol Hill centered around the need for bipartisan action to curb gun violence.

U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, whose 17th Congressional District includes parts of Peoria, says today feels like deja vu.

“We have gone through mass shooting after mass slaughter after mass murder, and the answer of way too many people in elected office is to stand up and have a moment of silence. That is unacceptable. We have to take action,” Bustos told WCBU.

Bustos took office in January 2013, just weeks after the deadly school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. She says she is disappointed that nothing seems to have changed since then.

The House voted in the spring 2021 to pass moderate gun reforms, which Bustos supports. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, says there is unlikely to be a Senate vote on these gun control bills, due to a lack of support from moderate Democrats.

Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee began confirmation hearings Wednesday morning on President Biden’s nominee to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), Steve Dettelbach. ATF has not had a permanent director since 2015.

Committee chair Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, opened the committee with a reflection on Tuesday’s school shooting, underscored by a plea for action.

“After every horrific shooting, there's a debate over whether one reform or another could have prevented it. That debate misses the point. It's too late to prevent the last shooting. We've already failed those victims and families. We need to act to prevent the next shooting,” said Durbin.

Durbin and other senators on the committee, including Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, expressed frustration that the “moderate” gun control bills from the House would not be brought to a vote in the Senate.

If confirmed, Dettelbach would lead the ATF in an apolitical manner, he says, while promoting safe gun use and preventing gun violence.

Durbin has voted in favor of every major gun control measure proposed during his time in the Senate, according to an NPR analysis, and said he hopes that filling a position left empty for seven years could provide more guidance and support to end mass shootings.

“It's high time for the Senate to confirm an ATF director not to take guns away from responsible, stable, qualified, law-abiding Americans, but to ensure that families can send their kids to school safely and law enforcement officers can return home each day,” Durbin said in support of Dettelbach.

While Democrats in Congress concede new gun control laws are unlikely to pass, Bustos said she believes the strongest way to end gun violence is to elect candidates who support gun control. Bustos herself is not running for re-election.

Bustos encouraged Illinoisans to consider gun control issues when voting in the June 28 primary.

“Think very hard about who you're voting for, and ask those tough questions of the people that you are leaning toward voting for. It doesn't matter to me if you're a Democrat or Republican. Vote for the right people who are going to get the job done” said Bustos.

Republican U.S. Reps. Darin LaHood of Dunlap and Rodney Davis of Taylorville were not immediately available for an interview. Both LaHood and Davis have received campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association and both voted against the gun control laws passed by the House last spring.

Davis sent a statement outlining his proposed plan for increasing school safety against gun violence, which would include hardening their facilities and making security investments, including armed officers.

"We should also be doing more to address the mental health crisis our country faces. We can also encourage the safe storage of firearms through education and tax incentives for gun locks or safes to make sure guns don't get in the hands of criminals or people who don't know how to use them," Davis said. "We can protect our Second Amendment rights and also take action to reduce gun violence, but Democrats in Springfield and Washington are wrongly focused on taking guns away more than anything else on this issue.”

LaHood’s district includes parts of Greater Peoria and Bloomington-Normal. Davis’ district includes parts of Bloomington-Normal as well.

Maggie Strahan is a graduate student in the Public Affairs Reporting program at the University of Illinois.