WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Gun control was a prominent topic at a candidate forum Sunday for those vying to represent Illinois' 2nd District in Congress.
More than 20 Democratic candidates are competing for the seat vacated by former Jesse Jackson, Jr., who resigned last year in the wake of health problems and a federal probe into his campaign finances. With less than a month until the Feb. 26 primary, 15 hopefuls discussed the issues at Trinity United Church of Christ, 400 W. 95th St.
When asked what the candidates would do to stop the flow of guns, especially in light of the Sandy Hook school shootings in Connecticut and Chicago's own problems with violence, nearly all of the Democrats in attendance agreed on a ban of the kind of automatic assault weapons used in the Connecticut shooting.
But former congresswoman Debbie Halvorson, who has been endorsed by the National Rifle Association in the past, was one of the few Democrats at the panel who said she opposes such a ban.
"We need to strengthen the laws we already have instead of keep talking about new ones," said Halvorson, who also stressed her support for instituting universal background checks and going after the "straw buyers," of guns for criminal use.
"Cook County has an assault weapons ban. We have the highest amount of murders in the country," Halvorson said.
Halvorson, though she lost the 2012 primary to Jackson, is seen as the possible frontrunner in a race that could see the Democratic vote split among some of the black candidates.
State Sen. Napoleon Harris, a former NFL lineback, said he wants to deal with the "underlying issues" of gun violence, such as bolstering education, access to mental health and other community outreach efforts, as did write-in candidate Denise Hill, a nonprofit organizer from Calumet City.
Former State Rep. Robin Kelly, of Matteson, took a somewhat strong stance for stricter gun control, as did Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), who reminded everyone of his role to help pass an ordinance regulating handguns in Chicago in 2010.
"I got an 'F' from the NRA, something I’m proud of," said Kelly, who has emphasized the point before.
Democratic candidate Charles Rayburn, of Dolton, generally avoided the question.
"I will vote with my constituents," Rayburn said.
Candidates Paul McKinley, a Republican from Bronzeville, as well as Green Party candidate LeAlan Jones, of South Shore, emphasized their differences from the Democratic candidates. Jones said he'd support building thousands of windmills off of I-57, as an example.
"I'm running against the machine," McKinley said repeatedly.
And for some, his message seemed to resonate.
"They spoke contrary to the system," community organizer Meghan Kyle, 24, said of McKinley and Jones after the panel.
Kyle said for her, the race isn't just about issues that matter to Democrats or Republicans, but "Chicago" issues, such as the number of people killed by city violence.
"We've got a Democratic mayor, a Democratic governor and a Democratic president, and we're still jacked up," Kyle said.
Other registered candidates who participated in the forum were Democrats Fatimah Muhammad of West Chesterfield, former congressman Mel Reynolds of Dolton, O. Patrick Brutus of Chatham, Victor Jonathan of Country Club Hills, Gregory Haynes of Lynwood, Larry Pickens of Stony Island Park and Joyce Washington of South Shore, as well as write-in candidate Liz Pahlke and Republican candidate Lenny McAllister of Maywood.