Two days after an assailant gunned down six people at a school in Nashville, a couple hundred gun rights advocates were joined by a number of Republican lawmakers outside the Illinois State Capitol on Wednesday to protest gun control measures such as the one passed by the Democratic-controlled legislature earlier this year.
“It is very easy to point the finger at guns as the issue, but you and I both know criminals will always find ways to commit crimes, no matter how strict our rules, and good law-abiding gun owners won’t be able to protect themselves or others,” freshman state Rep. Bradley Fritts, a Republican from Dixon, told the crowd.
The rally, which followed a march through downtown Springfield, was part of an annual gun owners lobby day event put on by the Illinois State Rifle Association, the state’s flagship gun rights organization. ISRA filed the first federal lawsuit contesting the gun ban signed into law in January by Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, arguing the law violates the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Marchers were led in chants that included, “Illinois gun owners marching by, we’re gonna keep our powder dry. At least one person chanted: “Chicago Dems run willy-nilly, let’s get Will Smith to slap them silly.”
When they arrived at the Abraham Lincoln statue outside the Capitol, one acknowledgment of Monday’s fatal shooting at a Christian school in Nashville came from Fritts, who said that “today, in the shadow of tragedy” it is “more important than ever” for politicians and gun owners “to protect our rights and protect our way of life.”
Another speaker, freshman state Rep. Jed Davis, a Republican from Newark, decried the gun control legislation coming out of the General Assembly, proclaiming “enough is enough.”
“We cannot yield another line and we need to continually push back against the insanity that is happening behind us here,” said Davis, a member of the Illinois Freedom Caucus, a contingent of the House GOP’s most conservative legislators. “Enough of this garbage. We are free people of the United States of America and it is time that we stand upon the Constitution and the freedoms that God implanted within our hearts and stand firm.”
Fritts echoed a common talking point among Republicans in the national gun debate by calling for the need to address mental health, which he said would include advocating for accessibility of mental health services and sustainable wages for their workers.
Republicans in the General Assembly over the years have routinely voted against Pritzker-backed budgets that include millions of dollars in funding for mental health services, saying their opposition stems from what they consider unnecessary spending in other areas of state government.
Illinois’ ban on many high-powered guns and high-capacity magazines, passed in response to the mass shooting at Highland Park’s Fourth of July parade that left seven people dead and dozens more injured, faces ongoing legal challenges.
In addition to the federal lawsuit, several state lawsuits allege the ban violates the equal protection clause of the Illinois Constitution. One of those lawsuits was filed in Macon County by state Rep. Dan Caulkins, a Decatur Republican, whose case is pending in the Illinois Supreme Court.
Caulkins, who is also an Illinois Freedom Caucus member, was in the crowd outside the Capitol Wednesday but did not speak because, he said, “we’re going to try our case in court.”
He told the Tribune the event was planned well before the Nashville shooting and wasn’t surprised that a healthy crowd showed up because “this attack on the Second Amendment only leads to further erosion of our rights and liberties.”
At an unrelated event earlier Wednesday, Pritzker took a more measured approach in comments about opponents of gun control measures than he has in the past.
“Everybody’s voice should be heard. If people want to gather and make their point, this is obviously the city to do it in with the legislators here,” he said, before addressing the shooting in Nashville.
“We all grieve I think for the three adults and three very young children who died that day. But (I’m) also deeply concerned about the kinds of weapons that were used in that attack,” Pritzker said. “We pray that’ll never happen in the state of Illinois and certainly an assault weapons ban will help us to limit the possibility of that ever occurring.”