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Annette Nance-Holt: The time is now: Why we need a statewide ban on assault weapons

Thursday, August 11, 2022
Chicago Tribune
by Annette Nance-Holt

 


An image of Blair Holt is held in the air during a rally against gun violence and march for peace in June 2018. The 16-year-old was fatally shot on a CTA bus as he shielded a friend from gunfire in 2007. (Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune)

It’s been 15 years since my son Blair was murdered on a CTA bus, and I think about him every day. It is an agonizing wound that will never heal.

Just like many other bystanders who simply are trying to go about their day in Chicago, Blair was riding the bus when a gang member came aboard and began indiscriminately firing at a rival. My son, an honor student at Julian High School, died shielding a friend from the bullets that ultimately took his life. He had his entire life ahead of him before he chose to risk himself for a fellow classmate at just 16 years old.

Countless shootings happen like clockwork in Chicago, Rockford, East St. Louis, Decatur and every other community throughout Illinois and the country. I struggle each day to understand why our leaders refuse to take action year after year after year. How many more innocent lives like Blair’s need to be lost until lawmakers recognize the wake of grief and the destruction that are left behind after these tragedies? How many more families need to be torn apart because our elected officials refuse to act?

Assault-style weapons have been banned in Cook County for more than a decade and in Chicago since 2013. These were the right steps at the time, but clearly, we need to do more. There’s no reason these weapons of mass murder should be available anywhere in this country. As long as these high-powered firearms are available, another catastrophe is possible anywhere in this country, and more parents will be faced with the anguish of coming home to a silent house and cleaning an empty bedroom where their child will no longer sleep.

 

It doesn’t have to be this way. We can change things — now.

Here’s how: To start, Congress should pass the Blair Holt Firearm Owner Licensing and Record of Sale Act and ensure that there are universal background checks for every single gun sale. This legislation would prohibit unlicensed firearm ownership and the transfer of firearms without a valid firearms license, as well as direct the attorney general to establish and maintain a federal record of sale system and conduct nationwide fingerprint-based criminal background checks. It’s a no-brainer.

 

While we await a true national solution to combat the surge of gun violence across America, the Illinois General Assembly should take action here at home. Our state should ban weapons of war that make mass shootings more deadly and provide historically underserved communities with the critical support they need to overcome the trauma and grief that we have all learned to push aside simply in the name of survival. State legislators should take action by outlawing assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in Illinois.

Our elected leaders should take action. Not some time down the road. Today.

To make that happen, it’s important that residents join the fight to protect our children and communities by contacting their state lawmakers to urge them to pass this lifesaving legislation. The world needs your voice because remaining silent only promotes the status quo — which allowed 1,745 Illinoisans to die at the hands of firearms in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

We must say in unison that enough is enough.

My son chose to be a hero the day he lost his life to gun violence, and it is time that public officials across every single layer of government take action before more lives are lost to this 100% preventable epidemic. I will never get Blair back; it is a painful reality that I have made my peace with.

But in his memory, we can — and must — create a better, safer country for everyone.

Annette Nance-Holt is Blair Holt’s mother.

Submit a letter, of no more than 400 words, to the editor here or email letters@chicagotribune.com.



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