Capacity gun forum draws raucous crowd
Bill Jenkins listens to a gun rights supporter after speaking at the New Trier Democratic Organization's forum 'Guns and Public Safety: Where We Stand After Sandy Hook' in Glenview. According to police 500 people were turned away from the public meeting a
Updated: February 25, 2013 11:32AM
GLENVIEW — As face-offs between pro-gun use and pro-gun control advocates go, Sunday’s “Guns and Public Safety” forum in Glenview “was pretty tame,” forum speaker Mark Walsh said after it was over.
Despite Walsh’s low-key review, the event – billed as a review of public safety and gun legislation and judicial actions in the wake of the school shooting in Sandy Hook – quickly morphed into a raucous afternoon of anti-gun control activists heckling and jeering at panelists.
The New Trier Democrats-sponsored forum had been moved from the Wilmette Public Library to larger quarters in anticipation of a large crowd. It drew so many people to the Glenview Police Station auditorium that police closed the doors to newcomers shortly before the 2 p.m. start, leaving a throng outside and forcing other would-be attendees to leave.
Inside, at least 160 people, many lining the walls three deep, were on hand to hear Walsh, campaign director of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence; Lee Goodman, of the Stop Concealed Carry Coalition; and Northfield residents Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins of the Million Moms March and her husband, author and gun control advocate Bill Jenkins.
About two-thirds of the audience sported Illinois State Rifle Association or National Rifle Association hats or tee-shirts. Many held up “Don’t Infringe My Rights” signs. Many photographed the crowd and speakers with phones and cameras.
Walsh was the first speaker; he reviewed the gun control measures proposed last week by President Barack Obama and told the audience that a recent Pew Research poll indicates 88 percent of respondents support implementing stronger background checks at gun shows. Minutes into his presentation, crowd members began shouting him down.
They quieted when Bishop-Jenkins spoke of the 1990 shootings of her sister and brother-in-law Nancy and Richard Langert of Winnetka.
“We’re here to have a conversation about a problem, a big, very sad, very bloody problem,” she said, pointing to a graphic with the faces of her sister and brother-in-law, Chicago shooting victims, and some of those killed at the Sandy Hook elementary school.
She and Jenkins, whose teenage son was shot to death at his workplace, urged listeners to work together to find ways to cut down on gun violence.
The crowd got noisy again as Jenkins, who pointed out that he is a gun owner, dismissed claims of anti-gun control advocates, that they are fighting to keep their own legally purchased guns from being confiscated.
“Stop using those arguments,” he told his detractors “It just makes you look silly.”
Listeners erupted with catcalls when Jenkins referred to the NRA and companies that make guns and ammunition as “A desperate group of people that are really in financial trouble.”
It is also one whose 4 million estimated members comprise only a small percent of the American populace, he said.
The number of households with guns is dropping nationally, despite a raft of state laws making it steadily easier to buy and carry arms, he said, insisting that the gun industry markets heavily to criminals.
The crowd’s greatest criticism was reserved for Goodman and a commentary he read, which focused on “the babies – children and young people killed by gun violence.” Audience members yelled at him, asking his views on abortion.
Goodman said public support for stronger gun control has strengthened as a result of the latest mass shootings, but heckling continued until a gun rights advocate in the audience came to the front and asked everyone, including his colleagues, to be calm, reminding them that they were at the event to gather information.
Comments and questions pointed to mental illness rather than guns as a problem, asked how background checks could be considered common sense, and stated that current gun laws don’t work, in part because of lack of a death penalty.
“This is part of the dialogue we need to have,” Walsh insisted. “We need to come up with some sort of compromise.”