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Illinois governor, state sued for failing to protect children through ‘logical’ gun laws

By by Bryan Crawford -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: Oct 24, 2018 - 10:10:58 AM

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CHICAGO— When a friend, family member or loved one is struck down by a bullet, the pain felt is visible and often quite evident. What can go unreported is how these same people deal with trauma that lingers long after funerals are over, the tears have dried and they attempt to go forward in their lives.

Psychological pain felt by those who directly or indirectly are affected by gun violence, in many cases, often goes ignored. This is especially true for the most vulnerable victims—children.

In Chicago, shootings are almost a daily occurrence. In far too many instances, after news coverage stops, so do feelings of sympathy and empathy for those affected—out of sight, out of mind. However, a group of attorneys in Chicago, with the help of medical professionals and a retired ATF senior special agent, are working to change that on behalf of three families who filed a federal lawsuit against Bruce Rauner, the governor of Illinois, as well as the Illinois State Police, for their failure to protect citizens of Chicago—in this case, specifically children— who live under the threat of gun violence on a daily basis.

“We all know that crime guns are flooding into our city and killing our children. But it’s also destroying these same children emotionally and psychologically in the most profound ways,” attorney Thomas Geoghegan said during a press conference announcing the lawsuit. “This suit is for the survivors; those children who are not left dead as a result of gun violence.”

Attorney Geoghegan stated the premise of the lawsuit is based on Governor Rauner’s refusal to enact what he called, “reasonable and logical” legislation that would act as a safeguard against the fl ow of guns that routinely enter Chicago’s city limits and are then used in an act of violent crime. Interestingly, this lawsuit isn’t seeking compensatory damages for any of the plaintiffs. Instead, the lawsuit is arguing that children traumatized in some way or another by gun violence, suffer from emotional and cognitive disabilities that can be far reaching and long lasting.

The suit argues that because of this, these same children should be granted accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because gun violence is a public health issue.

“The plaintiff children have suffered at least four types of violence— murder of a beloved family member, murder or wounding of a classmate or neighbor, the constant bombardment of hearing gunshots in their neighborhoods, and seeing the body of a murdered family member—and therefore, have permanent neurological damage,” said Dr. Patricia Rush, an expert witness for the plaintiffs from the Center for Collaborative Study of Trauma, Health Equity, and Neurobiology at the Hektoen Institute of Medicine. “These children have suffered permanent harm from the onslaught of traumatic images and violent sounds which they have repeatedly experienced. The harm to these children is incalculable.”

The lawyers stated that these traumatic experiences have left children unable to learn and concentrate in school, which they feel is a challenge these children will experience for the rest of their lives. The attorneys also revealed that many of what they call crime guns, don’t flood into Chicago from outside the State of Illinois’ borders, but instead from the inside. According to the complaint, 40 percent of guns used to commit shootings and murders in Chicago, were purchased from gun stores in Illinois, mostly from the city’s surrounding suburbs. The complaint notes that it would cost Illinois nothing to implement regulations that prevent gun shops from becoming involved in the trafficking of weapons. The state’s failure to enact such legislation constitutes not only a violation of Title II of the ADA due to Illinois’ failure to offer accommodations for the children who now have permanent disabilities due to gun violence, but are also a violation of the Illinois Civil Rights Act, the lawsuit argues. The state’s ability, through legal maneuvering, to curb violence in Chicago, which primarily affects Black residents, and its refusal to act constitutes a violation of civil rights, it adds.

“Illinois, in and of itself, is awash in illegal firearms. And unfortunately, Illinois, in and of itself, is its own source of these firearms,” said Jim Yorgealitis, another expert witness who is a retired ATF agent and currently works as an independent forensic and public policy consultant. “There are common sense, and easily attainable goals in regards to reforms for firearm legislation. There are a number of current Illinois laws and legislation in place related to firearms, but they’re disjointed, not cohesive and certain information isn’t shared well between agencies. I believe that if the recommendations in the complaint are followed, you will see a considerable reduction in crime guns that make it into Chicago, and a considerable reduction in the gun violence affecting the children that live in these neighborhoods.”

Demetria Powell, a parent of one of the child plaintiffs involved, is a resident of the Austin neighborhood on Chicago’s West side. The father of Ms. Powell’s young children was murdered in the West Garfield Park neighborhood in January 2016, and her son saw his father’s bullet riddled body laying in the streets. This same young boy, who is now eight years old, also had to live through the death of an employee at his school killed months after his father’s death. A year later, in 2017, he lost a classmate to gun violence, as well as experienced the wounding of his school peers due to gun-fire. This year alone, the boy has experienced one fatal and two-non fatal within two blocks of where he lives. He hears gunshots almost every night on his block.

Tanya Reece, a plaintiff who lives in Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb immediately West of Chicago, lost her oldest son who was also shot and killed in the Austin neighborhood in August 2015. Her oldest child, who is now 16 years old, was close to his brother and the trauma he experienced resulted in him being diagnosed with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and spending two years at the Mercy Home for Boys and Girls, a residential treatment facility.

Tywanna Patrick lost her 21-year-old son to gun violence in the Austin neighborhood in July 2014. He was shot and killed trying to protect a young woman being harassed in the street by a group of men. Ms. Patrick’s granddaughter, the third child plaintiff in this case, was very close to her uncle and was present when police came to notify Ms. Patrick that her son had been murdered. Her granddaughter, as a result of this incident, has also been diagnosed with PTSD.

“When my family speaks of him, my grandchildren all have fond memories of their uncle, who didn’t have any children, but treated them as if they were his own. However, they also still get emotional and sometimes they tear up when we do talk about him,” Ms. Patrick said. “And when they have certain discussions at school, or if they’ve watched certain programs on TV, it brings back the occurrence all over again.”

Said Dr. Rush, “I urge Gov. Rauner, Director [Leo] Schmitz (Illinois State Police), and all law enforcement and government officials to act now. Adopt and enforce regulations to protect the children of Illinois and their families from gun violence.”