Weekend news feature out of Chicago, no photos

BREAKOUT: after main bar


Earlier this month, Ron Holt stood in the crowded basement of a Chicago church and – in front of several television cameras -- spilled his grief.
“I stand here symbolically … for all the parents who lost children before me – all the parents who have lost children to senseless gun violence,” Holt said at a news conference with Mayor Richard Daley to encourage residents to turn in firearms for cash.
“I get up every morning just like the other parents do, anguishing, wishing that my child was here,” Holt added. “I’ve asked God to give me the energy, the strength to turn my anger, my frustration, my grieving and my mourning into making this a national campaign.”
The 46-year-old Chicago police officer has become one of the latest personal stories injected into the perennial, usually deadlocked debate over gun control. On May 10, his only child, Blair, was killed in a shooting spree on a Chicago bus as he tried to protect another youth.
Illinois gun-control advocates who previously have walked away empty-handed from Springfield and Washington say the shocking circumstances of the teen’s death and the sheer volume of students killed in the past year through gun violence – more than 30 young people -- have given their cause added traction. And they credit parents like Ron Holt with helping carry the message.
“There’s a new face on this violence – and the face is of the parents whose children have been killed,” said Chicago activist priest Michael Pfleger, who has drawn attention for protesting outside gun shops. “We’re seeing them become much more vocal, become much more unified.”
Each year, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley calls on state and federal legislators to approve “common sense” gun laws, such as monthly limits on gun purchases and renewed bans on military-style assault rifles. But enactment of stricter gun laws in Illinois has been relatively rare, partly because legislators from rural downstate areas tend to oppose them as a threat to the Second Amendment.
Meanwhile, lobbyists for firearm owners argue that Chicago, which has outlawed handguns, cannot nail criminals with the laws they already have on the books.
“Instead of putting these guys in jail, they want to pass a law that affects law-abiding citizens,” said Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association.
Ron Holt said Chicago’s urban environment and social ills breed unique problems that would be alleviated through new gun laws. He said he began participating in the gun-control movement shortly after his son’s death and has found the experience therapeutic.
“Me and Blair’s mom (Annette Nance Holt), we didn’t choose to be here, we didn’t want to be in this place,” he said in an interview last week. “I believe that I’m speaking out and hopefully changing some lives. Maybe the words are resonating.”
 Denise Reed said she has found a similar kind of solace in speaking out, although she became emotional at a news conference with Gov. Rod Blagojevich earlier this month as he called for capacity limits on ammunition clips.  Reed’s 14-year-old honor student daughter, Starkesia, was killed in March 2006 when a South Side man allegedly strafed their residential block with an AK-47.
“We want our voice to be heard because we are the real face behind the news  report,” the mother said. “Once the media’s gone, we still have to deal with this on a day-to-day basis.”
Guns are involved in 80 percent of the city’s homicides and the “vast majority” of armed robberies, Daley said earlier this month as he appeared with Holt and Pfleger.
“Simple quarrels often do escalate into homicides,” the mayor said. “Where do we see it? We have children arguing on the street about maybe a basketball game or something else. The child runs home; there’s a gun in the home. He comes out. He’s mad. He’s upset, fires the pistol.
“We have one victim child and another victim – the offender.”
Even with the perpetual impasse on gun-control legislation, proponents of the measures point to a bright spot. The gun “turn-in” sponsored by the city of Chicago July 21 at several locations yielded an unprecedented 6,700 weapons – more than the two previous events combined.
Residents received a $100 prepaid MasterCard for each firearm they turned in, without being questioned. The guns will ultimately be destroyed.
The relative success of the gun collection is “a small piece of the puzzle,” said Jennifer Bishop, Illinois field director for the Brady Campaign. “What it suggests is the heightened consciousness and extreme willingness of people to say we’ve had enough of this.”
Mike Ramsey can be reached at (312) 857-2323 or ghns-ramsey@sbcglobal.net .
In the wake of Virginia Tech: an agreement on guns
Because of complex political dynamics, the Illinois Legislature has rarely passed the type of  gun-control legislation that activists have called for. But this spring, state lawmakers passed two measures in the wake of April’s Virginia Tech massacre.
One of the bills that the House and Senate sent to Gov. Rod Blagojevich would require all hospitals and mental institutions to identify potentially dangerous patients to state police, and the agency would block the individuals from having Firearm Owner Identification (FOID) cards. State police also would share information with a national database to alert other states.
The second measure would add people judged mentally defective in court proceedings to the list of those who can be denied a FOID card.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan lobbied for a tightening of the state’s FOID law following the shooting rampage at Virginia Tech. A mentally deranged student with a history of psychological problems fatally shot 32 people on the campus before killing himself.
A Blagojevich spokesman on Thursday said both bills are under review.