HUMBOLDT PARK — While the nation turns its attention to assault weapons in the ongoing gun control dialog, one local congressman says handguns are the real problem.
“I support a ban on assault weapons,” Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Chicago) said Monday. “But the fact is: Ninety-seven percent of all of those that died because of gun violence in 2011 were murdered with a handgun, not an assault weapon. Handguns must be part of the dialogue.”
Gutierrez met with families affected by gun violence at The Neighborhood Chapel (La Capilla Del Barrio) in Humboldt Park Monday morning.
He promised to draft a proposal in coming weeks that would restrict handgun access.
Stricter sanctions on those who don’t report lost or stolen guns could also limit the “devastating” number of 22. Specials that make their way into the city, Gutierrez said.
Gutierrez advocated a “holistic approach” to gun control, saying the city needs to address high unemployment rates, the ease of obtaining guns across state lines, and “drugs, drugs, drugs.”
“You have to confront the hopelessness and the joblessness that exists among so much of your youth,” Gutierrez said. “We need to create employment opportunities before a handgun reaches their hands and they become a murderer or a criminal.”
Gutierrez said job training and afterschool programs could change behavior.
“I suggest we go out and put saws and hammers and pliers in people’s hands and develop people’s minds, so that they won’t have guns in those hands,” he said.
Ruth Escobar, 37, a Humboldt Park resident who volunteers with youth, said reentry programs are just as important as job training.
“People that already have felonies on their records — it is impossible for them to get jobs,” Escobar said. “Most people that are gang bangers don’t want to be. They don’t want that lifestyle, but once they have a record, they’re unable to get employment.”
Escobar said her brother was shot three times in the head in 2002, leaving him with mental disabilities.
“I’m glad he’s alive, but my brother is not my brother anymore,” she said. “He’s not someone I recognize when he’s off his meds, and he cannot be a productive citizen because he got shot.”
Gutierrez said innocent bystanders are often those most impacted.
“Look, we need to reach out as a society to those that have been marginalized and say, ‘We are here to help you find a positive vocation in your life,’” he said.
“Look at Hadiya Pendleton… She was the antithesis to drugs and gangs. She is exactly what we wish all of our daughters would be. She’s dead. The violence affects those that are doing absolutely everything right in their life.”