On the morning of July 4, 2022, thousands of people were gathered to watch the annual Independence Day Parade in the suburban community of Highland Park, Illinois, when a gunman opened fire into the crowd, killing seven people and wounding dozens of others. Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering and the City’s Corporation Counsel Steve Elrod join Jonathan Amarilio and Trisha Rich to discuss the events and aftermath of that horrific day as well as the legal measures they believe must be taken to prevent such tragedies from happening again in the future. The episode also features commentary from several paradegoers.
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Abby Brosio: So, initially, after I saw the gunman, I had shouted that it was a gunman and we hit the ground. And obviously, that wasn’t the best move considering he was above us. So, my next thought was get inside the store and I screamed that everybody should get inside the store and I was pulling my daughter close to my chest. And unfortunately, I didn’t have time to look around. I just had to hope and pray in my head that my mother-in-law had my son safe and she did. But, I mean, in that instant, I just had to do what I had to do to save my daughter.
Jared Fishman: We didn’t actually hear gunshots. We were made aware when members of the Highland Park high school marching band were running down the street yelling that shots have been fired. We grabbed our two kids. My third one was about 10 feet away and she took off running with her friends. And so, we had a couple of minutes where we actually couldn’t find her. We found her with her friends and, thankfully, they were all okay.
Bob Morgan: We just got a word to start the parade and we are stepping off as they say. And my campaign manager was standing in front of me on the phone and she turned to me and yelled, “Gunshots, gunshots.” And as immediately she said that over her shoulder, I was looking towards the center of the parade. So, I could see hundreds of people running away and an unmarked squad car that was kind of flying up the road with his lights flashing in the same direction. So, it was immediate that there was a major issue. Something was wrong.
Jared Fishman: The kids read the reaction of participants and observers of the parade to be what they were, which was signs of terror in their faces, their body movements in ways that as adults, we try to dismiss. Many of us do not want to believe that this truly was happening.
Jonathan Amarilio: Hello everyone and welcome to CBA’s @theBar, a podcast where we have unscripted conversations with our guests about legal news topic, stories and whatever else strikes our fancy. I’m your host John Amarilio of Taft Law and joining me as co-host is Trisha Rich of Holland & Knight. Those clips you just heard a moment ago don’t make for easy listening. They’re taken from interviews we conducted with witnesses including one victim of the recent mass shooting in the Highland Park, Illinois. And to talk about that day and some of the events and issues surrounding it, we’re joined by the Mayor of Highland Park, Nancy Rotering, and Highland Park Corporation Counsel as well as former CBA President, Steve Elrod of Elrod Freeman, LLP. The basic outline of events that day has become tragically familiar. We are a little more than halfway through the year and in those seven months, the US has seen well over 300 mass shootings. Mass shootings of this type and frequency are as Mayor Rotering recently testified before Congress, a uniquely American phenomenon. And so, it was perhaps both unsurprising and perverse that on July 4, it happened again. Residents of Highland Park, an idyllic suburb just north of Chicago gathered that Monday morning for the first time in over two years to hold their traditional Independence Day Parade. Families and friends congregated with their lawn chairs, their American flags and their good cheer for what they thought would be a lovely day. Instead at 10:14, just a few minutes after the parade began, 83 gunshots were fired into the crowd in the space of less than a minute. The shooter, Robert Crimo III, had used a Smith & Wesson M&P 15 semi-automatic assault rifle to murder seven innocent people and wound another 25. The victims ranged in age from 8 to 88 years old and included mothers, grandfathers, and a couple who shielded their 2-year-old son with their bodies to protect him from the rounds of evil raining down upon them from above. The boy lived. His parents did not. Being only a month old, the experience of that day is still very raw. The aftermath is still unfolding which is why given the immediacy of that day, we are especially lucky to be joined by Mayor Rotering and Steve today. Mayor, Steve, thank you for joining us.
Nancy Rotering: Thank you.
Steve Elrod: Thank you.
Jonathan Amarilio: So, Mayor, I’d like to begin with you. If you would just tell us where you were and what you were doing when the shots first rang out?
Nancy Rotering: I was with the city council. We were in the parade. I had waved to my husband who was in the middle of the block right across from where the shooter was. I didn’t realize at the time what was going on across the street and up on the roof. We had proceeded about a block and I had been listening to the marching band which was behind us and noted to my council colleagues that the music had stopped and I couldn’t understand why there was only a rapid drum cadence. And it took me about four days to realize that I hadn’t been hearing a drum cadence. I had actually been hearing the shots that were being fired onto Central Avenue. Interestingly, we got a call that this was happening just at the time that Steve Elrod stepped away from his family to give me a high five.
And so, it was at that very moment that we all found out that there was an active shooter. We immediately pivoted to an emergency evacuation and proceeded down the rest of the parade route clearing the crowds. We then ran to a nearby park where there was a giant festival being set up and evacuated that festival as quickly as we could. And with an active shooter still at large, we then went into hiding at a nearby friend’s house and convened an emergency city council meeting and Steve actually joined us at that meeting.
Jonathan Amarilio: Steve, Mayor said you were right there with her the whole time? Is that — do you remember the events that way?
Steve Elrod: Yes, our story is synced unfortunately or fortunately. The background for me is, you know, actually and as Trish well knows, I usually don’t spend my summers or my Fourth of July holiday in Highland Park. I’m usually up at our lake house in Eagle River, Wisconsin. For the first time in 20 years, I actually was in Highland Park. My daughter was pregnant, ready to deliver any day. She actually delivered on July 7 and we were in charge of her two older kids, a 7-year-old and a 5-year-old. And so, my wife and I decided since we’re home in Highland Park for the Fourth of July, we attend the Fourth of July parade. We take our two grandchildren to the parade, and we’re there excited with everybody. As the parade was rolling by and kicking it off was our mayor and members of the City Council and I sort of bragged to my 7-year-old grandson that, “Hey, I know that woman. I know the mayor. Watch this,” and said, “I’m going to go say hello to her,” and I did and just as the mayor said I went up to high five. And suddenly, we saw the marching band running toward us saying, “There’s a shooter. There’s a shooter. Run, run, run.” And you know, it’s then that you did they say your instincts are to either run, to freeze or to fight. Flight, freeze or fight I think are the basic animal instincts that you learn you have. And my children, as the mayor has testified, my children knew better than I, my grandchildren rather. My grandchildren, a first grader, knew better than I what to do in this situation. They knew to run and my wife and my son-in-law who also was there grabbed each child and started running. I, on the other hand, was doubtful. I did not believe that this was happening. I was standing there saying, “No, you’re overreacting. You’ve got it wrong.” I’m saying to my wife, “Stop, you don’t have to run.” I just didn’t believe it until the mayor received a call. I think Nancy, it was from your husband, from Rob, saying what had happened. He was back at the reviewing stand.
Nancy Rotering: He was literally at the reviewing stand and had seen people get shot and had run around bodies to come and find me to see if we were safe. And simultaneously, our city manager also called and then one of the council members said, “I just heard from my wife that somebody’s been shot outside of our local outdoor camping store.” And what happened at that point was we saw the band racing down the sidewalk. We saw fire engines racing towards us literally straight into the parade, and the City Council and I scattered to the two sides of the street and we were just screaming at people, “Evacuate. You’ve got to run. Go west, go west.” But to Steve’s point, the adults were like, they just couldn’t comprehend and the kids were like, “Run, run, we got to run.” I mean, they just — that’s the part that just breaks my heart in addition to the agony of all of this as with this generation of kids who have literally by the hundred said to me, I wasn’t sure if I knew it was a when and I sort of figured it might be at school,” but to have all these kids say to me, “We always knew this would come to our lives,” is just a terrible, terrible commentary.
Steve Elrod: And I will never forget Mayor Rotering’s face when it turned from, you know, here she is a proud mayor of a parade that hadn’t occurred in two months. You know, we’re out. We’re over COVID or we thought we were over COVID. At least, we’re out in a parade and —
Nancy Rotering: Outside.
Steve Elrod: We were all disbelieving. And then, the call comes in and she looks at me and she says, “Steve, it’s real.” And those two words, it’s real, sunk in and I knew immediately that life in Highland Park would be different.
It began to sink in right then and there that life was going to change.
Nancy Rotering: And my emotion was no, not us, not today. I mean, I just couldn’t believe it was happening, and I’ve played that feeling over and over in my head and it’s continually the before and the after. When did we become one of those cities? And I said to somebody, I’ve never thought I’d be one of those mayors and I realized, of course, nobody thinks they’re going to be one of those mayors. And literally within an hour of this happening, I heard from the Mayor of Buffalo. I heard from the Mayor of Dayton, Ohio. They sent to me this handbook that they’ve put together, a 198-page handbook, that they send the mayors immediately after their city has experienced a mass shooting, and there’s a 24-hour protocol of what’s going to happen immediately and then the rest of your life protocol. It’s just unbelievable to me that we’re allowing this to happen in our country that our kids view this as normal, isn’t who we are.
Steve Elrod: And the irony is that neither Mayor Rotering nor I are strangers to the world of assault weapons and I’m not saying that we engage with assault weapons. We’ve been working for many, many years to try and ban them. Mayor Rotering courageously led a city council back in 2013 on an effort to ban assault weapons and then we then litigated it. So, we’ve been dealing with the subject matter, but I too like the mayor thought, well, not in our backyard.
Nancy Rotering: And what’s interesting is when we passed that ban, people said, “Well, you don’t have an assault weapons problem in your city,” and I’m like which city has an assault weapons problem, like right out of the gate that that’s even a response.
Steve Elrod: They came to our city council meeting when the mayor had it on the agenda back in 2013 and called her hysterical. You’re being hysterical. This could never happen in Highland Park. And the mayor said, “Did you just see Newtown, Connecticut? Did they ever think it would happen there or Aurora, Colorado.” I remember her saying that. And similarly, when a lawsuit was filed against us by the Illinois chapter of the NRA, the basis of the lawsuit was that the city overreacted. This would never happen in Highland Park.
Nancy Rotering: But again, what city is expecting somebody to break out combat weapons and mow down people in school or in a grocery store or in a park or at a parade or at a concert. It’s just not acceptable, but this is a normal part of American life.
Trisha Rich: Before we talk about, you know, the long-standing law in Highland Park and all of the efforts and your new efforts, I want to ask one other question about the day of — as you guys were getting your families and your stuff together and evacuating the scene, did you have a sense, could you tell from where you were, how close you were to the shooter where the shooter was or were you just watching crowds of people run?
Nancy Rotering: So, my husband literally was across the street and even he couldn’t tell where the shooter was, and we’ve talked to over a hundred people who were literally right there because there was a courtyard behind where everybody was. There were bullets ricocheting, sound ricocheting. We had police officers on site in literally 30 seconds and they couldn’t figure out where he was. It was so fast and I think that’s one of the points that people need to recognize is there’s so much carnage in such a short period of time that for people to think, “Well, if we just arm more people, we’ll just be able to –” It’s too fast. It’s too fast and it’s too much. And the part that I really think we need to discuss and I hate to put it in these terms, but we remember when Emmett Till’s body was brought to Roberts Temple in Chicago for the funeral and Mrs. Till — his mother said, “I want people to see what has happened to my son with full respect and sympathy to the pain that all these families have experienced, to all these people have are still recovering from.”
Last night, I was talking to some of our first responders and they literally described it as a scene of war which I guess makes sense because these are weapons designed for war. And so, my question now has become, “At what point did we as a country say, oh, we’re going to give up life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to live in a war zone that can erupt at any time” because that’s essentially what happened on the 4th of July in Highland Park. So, I think, you know, we talked and have heard of so many of these events, but the actual impact on the human body and the actual impact on not just the families —
— but the ripple effects throughout our community, we know that there was a concern in another cities that this was perhaps a larger planned effort and they canceled all of their events. And Trish, you asked about our own families. My family ran and went into hiding as well because we didn’t know if we were targeted. This gunman was at large for hours and nobody — everybody I’ve talked was like they were looking out their windows wondering if he was in their backyard or on their roof. I mean, the kind of fear that people experienced on top of the trauma and the pain of this event continues and we know that people have been seeking counseling by the thousands. I don’t know where our journey leads us and how long this pain remains and this fear remains with everybody. It’s just incredibly hard to describe until you and your community have gone through it. It needs to stop. There’s no reason for this to be continuing.
Steve Elrod: I wanted to just sort of add on to that day of concept that the mayor just spoke about. One of the things that set the Highland Park mass shooting aside from so many of the others is that the gunman was not immediately identified and indeed was not located and captured until several hours later. Thank goodness due to outstanding police work by primarily the Highland Park Police Department but with others. He was ultimately apprehended. But there were several hours of that day that we not only had to deal with the reality that our neighbors were shot and killed, and we were getting calls of so-and-so has been injured, so and so’s foot was blown off. So, you know, all these different horror stories, not only did we learn of that as all the other mass shootings have, we also had to deal with the fact that the shooter was still at large and we were freaked out. If I tell you my daughter, my son, my wife, and people were scared to death to be in their house. Everyone locked themselves in their house not wanting to go into their backyard, not wanting to — you know, if you had to walk from your car to your house, you were looking all around because you had no idea where the shooter could be. So, it was a double whammy for them.
Nancy Rotering: It was. There were hundreds of people in basements of stores. We had the tragic story of poor Aiden McCarthy being sort of passed around at an underground garage. So, while people were still fearing for their lives, trying to figure out whose child this was and then this just horrible realization when we realized nobody was looking for him that there was a reason why nobody was looking for him. I mean, it’s just the layers and emotions that are continuing to come. Here we are more than three weeks later. I don’t know where we move forward without having this sort of sense of heaviness that continues to pervade the city. Obviously, we are trying to provide resources to people and making sure that we’re reaching out. You know, there’s a huge impact on the Latino community as well and making sure that folks aren’t hindered by language barriers from getting the services that they need. But this is a new journey for all of us. And for so many of us, it’s just sort of how do we give each other the space to move forward and also the support that we know we’re all going to be needing for a long time.
Jonathan Amarilio: You know, as a I hear both of you describe the immediate aftermath of that hiding in your homes, hiding in basements, hiding in parking garages, it reminds me Mayor of the testimony that you recently gave before Congress when you rhetorically asked what kind of freedom is that. But there’s something else that you just mentioned that I want to dig into. You talked about what this crime scene actually looked like and what these kinds of rifles can actually do to the human body. And one of the arguments that we’re hearing with I think more frequency now from those who advocate for firearms restrictions is that maybe we should start showing the American public those images as gruesome and perhaps distasteful as it may be. When people saw bodies coming back from Vietnam, it changed their mind about what that war was and what its cost was and whether it was worth it, and the thinking is maybe if people actually saw the aftermath of these kinds of shootings as terrible as it is. Maybe, if they actually saw what it looked like to see a child murdered in one of these shootings, they might change their minds about the relative benefits and costs. Where are you on that?
Nancy Rotering: It is still so new and I still have so many people who are in the hospital. I spoke with one of the survivors last night and his comment to me was, I just wish you could have known her. And I feel very strongly that as we talk about this and this need for change, we need to be sensitive timewise that there are so many people who are still in the most raw moments of grief that I’m trying to talk about who these people were when they were alive. I do recognize that there is going to be a need and a time for those more detailed and illustrative conversations. But given that we are only three weeks out, I’m focused more on how do I help these folks move forward. I totally understand what you’re saying. I’ve seen photographs. I’ve talked to my husband about what he saw and I’ve talked to first responders who are still working through the very violent trauma that they’ve all endured and their efforts to save lives and their efforts to give people comfort. Our own City Manager didn’t run and help us evacuate. She ran straight back into where the shooting occurred and she, herself, saved several people. This is still so raw. And I think if we can talk about maybe in theoretical terms, we had great testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee about how these weapons and these bullets, you know, are so incredibly high velocity that they can liquefy organs. I talked to several of the survivors at the funerals who had had shrapnel melt into their bodies and they will never get that out. It is too harmful to try to remove it surgically. So, they forevermore have these permanent melted fragments of metal from these weapons. But I think there is a time, Jon, at some point where we do need to talk more about what does this look like.
Jonathan Amarilio: Yeah.
Nancy Rotering: And why are we referring to this as a shooting when it’s actually the aftermath of what looked like combat in the middle of a Fourth of July parade?
Steve Elrod: And in fact, and to just add to that, I think the mayor is right. It is too soon. But at some point, we need to realize that we live in a graphic society. We live in a shallow society. We live in one where pictures speak a whole lot louder than words. And the mayor just described the testimony that was presented at the Senate Judiciary Committee about how the bullets from these combat weapons and how the velocity could destroy a human body. They’re intended to liquefy human organs. Those are words. But if people saw it happening, it would have dramatic change. I’m convinced that the impact of the George Floyd murder was so only because people saw a video —
Jonathan Amarilio: Because of the video.
Nancy Rotering: Right.
Steve Elrod: — of an officer kneeling on his neck. If you describe that versus actually having seen it, it would be two different things and but it is too soon right now and it is an unfortunate statement of needing pictures. And as lawyers, we know that pictures to a jury speak a lot louder than words.
Trisha Rich: This conversation reminds me of, you know, the people that say that we lost this battle after Sandy Hook, right? After Sandy Hook happened and there wasn’t immediate legislation to fix the prevalence of assault weapons in the United States that if we didn’t care about all of these 5 and 6-year-olds being killed in a school that America was just never going to ever, ever, ever going to fix this. And I recently heard an interview with one of the Sandy Hook treating physicians who is on the New York Times podcast, The Daily, and he said a very similar thing that he said, I thought this would change the way Americans viewed this issue, and I wish I could show them photographs of the children that were killed in Sandy Hook because I think that would do it. So, I’ve been thinking about that point a lot, and it’s really interesting to hear your guys’ thoughts on it. It does feel too soon, but at the same time like what is going to be the catalyst for us to take this issue seriously in this country.
Nancy Rotering: Right. And it’s interesting when President Biden called on the Fourth. He shared more details about Sandy Hook. And when I had a conversation at the White House last week after I had done the testifying before the Senate, we also have that conversation about how people really need to better understand how sad is this. You know, we’re so inured to, oh, another mass shooting happened, but that’s not what happened. People were caught in combat fire through no actions of their own and this is what happened to their bodies needs to be where this conversation goes. For my purposes as the Mayor of Highland Park, I will move forward and I will bring those details, but I can’t do that today. I can’t do that right now.
Jonathan Amarilio: And that’s probably a good place for us to take a break. We’ll come back and talk about what the Mayor and Steve are trying to do to fix this problem moving forward. We’ll be right back.
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Jonathan Amarilio: And we’re back. Mayor, you were recently in Washington testifying before Congress as we mentioned, and you were discussing your experience. What were you hoping to accomplish when you’re on the hill?
Nancy Rotering: I was hoping to bring the humanity and the pain to those who can make the change happen. And for several of the people in the room, we had an unbelievably productive and good conversation. I wanted to represent each of the victims who died. I wanted to represent the loss of innocence that so many experienced that day. And I wanted us to really kind of highlight what we stand for as a nation of all days to have this happen and of all days to celebrate freedom when in fact, this scourge of violence makes us so much less free. I wanted those three points to come across. Several people who were there had no interest in hearing what I had to say. They showed up, monologued and left. And now, my goal is how do I reach their constituents and tell them that they’re not doing their jobs in representing them. That if they can’t be committed to recognizing how this impacts everybody’s public safety and public health and human rights, they need to get fired. So, I know that sounds very strategic and not as mayorly, but that’s how I feel. I feel like if you’re in public service, you’re there to serve the public and these people are not serving the public and they need to lose their jobs.
Trisha Rich: And to that point, when we see the public polling on these issues, even among gun owners, most people favor more and more regulation, and we just have a bunch of reps and senators in Washington who are — just do not care about what the people want.
Nancy Rotering: It’s interesting. I’ve talked to a lot of sports people, a lot of folks who hunches a hobby; I have to say, almost all of them, except for a couple of trolls who seemed to make this their new hobby to send me nastiness, they don’t see a need for combat weapons in civilian hands. They recognize how high the risk is. And actually, it’s those folks who have said to me, responsible gun owners know what it means to store their guns, to separate their ammunition, to do what’s right to make sure that these don’t get into the wrong hands, and have highlighted to me, you know, we regulate all kinds of things so that they’re not in public hands and they can’t be used in this sort of manner. Think about grenade launchers. Think about machine guns, chemicals, certain pharmaceutical — I mean, I don’t need to — we’re a bunch of lawyers. We know what they are. But to that point, there’s a reason why we don’t have just full-on freedom to get our hands on and use whatever we want against each other. This needs to be regulated. And so, to those who feel strongly about the Second Amendment, I say to them, what about all the rest of the Constitution? What about the life liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Right now, in a small group of people’s hands, is the power to utterly destroy a community and it needs to be reversed. We need to say no more.
Steve Elrod: Mayor, can I just hone in on what exactly though you were testifying about and what the current mission is. It’s not to eliminate the Second Amendment.
Nancy Rotering: No.
Steve Elrod: Mayor Rotering’s testimony and the title of the Judiciary Committee hearing chaired by Senator Durbin was on assault weapons.
Nancy Rotering: Right.
Steve Elrod: We understand — we’ve read the Heller Decision. We understand the Mayor understands Senator Durbin, understands that the Heller Decision confirms that there is a right to have handguns in the home under the Second Amendment. But we are talking specifically about combat style assault weapons in the hands of civilians.
That’s the limited point that the mayor was testifying to.
Jonathan Amarilio: I imagine, and tell me if I’m wrong, but I imagine what you both heard when you were there was it’s just not going to happen, right? Like a week before the Highland Park shooting and the aftermath of Uvalde shooting, Congress passed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act I think it was called, you know, which did things like eliminate the notorious boyfriend loophole, mandated some tougher background checks for people under 21, that kind of thing. Many people say it’s not enough. Other people say it’s at least breaking the inertia and perhaps will lead to some momentum, but that was the first legislation, federal legislation on this, in what, a quarter of a century?
Nancy Rotering: 30 years, right.
Jonathan Amarilio: Did you just hear, “That’s all we can do now?”
Nancy Rotering: No, that’s not at all what we heard. We heard a renewed interest in a national assault weapons ban in large capacity magazine ban. We heard an interest in addressing the immunity that’s given to gun manufacturers, and I think it’s important to note that there may be some more momentum than people realize. I believe the House of Representatives is looking at taking the vote up on an assault weapon’s ban next week, and let’s be clear, you know, providing an assault weapons ban in large capacity magazine ban at a city level is not going to make a huge difference other than representing the values of that community.
Jonathan Amarilio: Right.
Nancy Rotering: But then moving to the state level, and we’ve been having several of those conversations with legislators, with the governor, with the senate president, the speaker, the attorney general. They are all getting commentary from me about why we as a state obviously need to take this stand. We’ve been working on that since at least 2018, and frankly right after Uvalde, I was in touch again with the governor, the senate president, and the speaker, asking them to at least revisit the issue of removing state preemption and allowing municipalities to follow Highland Park’s lead and ban assault weapons. But then I followed up with conversations with State Rep. Maura Hirschauer about how about pursuing a statewide ban, and Senator Adriane Johnson about helping us in our endeavors. So, that was already in motion after Uvalde. It was a follow-up to four years of effort that I’ve been putting in, and now I feel like we are at least moving towards the state, taking stronger action. Of course, we’re surrounded by states with lax laws and that’s another issue that propels me to talk about a federal ban, but let’s take our wins and let’s keep moving to get these combat weapons out of civilian hands.
Trisha Rich: And I want to back up on this point, if we can. For our listeners who are outside of the State of Illinois or just aren’t familiar, could the two of you talk a little bit about the history of the assault weapon ban in Highland Park? Because I think of that as sort of the beginning of your journey here.
Nancy Rotering: Absolutely. Steve, I’ll let you kick us off.
Steve Elrod: Yeah. Well, the mayor and I, as I indicated earlier, have been around this block before, and it’s interesting. It shows an interesting statement of Illinois politics and the interrelationship between state government and local government. Illinois, unlike California, and Connecticut, and New York, does not have a statewide assault weapon ban. It considered one back in 2013 when Illinois was adopting a Concealed Carry Act. The Illinois state legislatures had been pressured on both sides to adopt the statewide ban and in the last days of the legislative session that year, the state legislature at that time did what I think both the mayor and I agree made it quite an unfortunate statement and adopted an unusual piece of legislation. The state said, “No. We, the State of Illinois, are not going to adopt an assault weapon ban. We are not going to ban assault weapons statewide, and we are not going to allow any municipality to adopt its own assault weapon ban.” So, not only we’re going to prevent the statewide, “We are also not going to allow any of you local governments to adopt your own assault weapon ban.” Then in an effort to appease some of those that were pressuring for a ban, they said, “However, if a local government wants to adopt an assault weapon ban within the next 10 days after we adopt this law, we will allow that assault weapon ban to stand, but if not, forever hold your peace.”
Jonathan Amarilio: Which is nearly impossible, even Highland Park managed to pull it off, but you have to craft legislation and pass it. That could pass constitutional muster, right? You have to go through the political process.
Steve Elrod: Jonathan and Trish, as you know, I represent a number of local governments, not just Highland Park.
And I saw all of them scramble to try and do something. The NRA was out in force attending all of these meetings. They had it on a calendar. When each city council or village board throughout the state met, they knew when these meetings were going to occur, those that had strong leadership like Highland Park were able to get it done, notwithstanding that the city hall was packed. You’ll recall this, mayor. She had to deal with hundreds of people, primarily non-residents of Highland Park, arguing against her. Other mayors and our village boards and city councils were not able to withstand that pressure and were not able to get their act together within the 10-day period, and they are now forever foreclosed unless Illinois changes. Highland Park did and it adopted its assault weapon ban in 2013.
Jonathan Amarilio: Do you think if Illinois did pass an assault weapons ban and, mayor, you were hinting at this before. You know, we’re bordered by states that don’t have such bans were bordered by states that have varied lax firearm regulation. Do you think it would do anything to improve the safety of the citizens of Illinois knowing that people could just drive 15 minutes to Indiana and bring an assault rifle back over the border?
Nancy Rotering: I think it achieves two things. One, if you can save one life, you’ve made a difference. And two, if we can get other states in the country to also start working towards having state assault weapons bans, perhaps that will move us forward as a nation to recognize that this is where we need to go. The glacial pace is unconscionable to me given the lost that we experienced here in Highland Park, but if there’s any way to move this conversation forward and to further represent that the vast majority of Americans feel very strongly that they shouldn’t have to live with this kind of fear, then let’s do what we can.
Jonathan Amarilio: California recently passed a gun control law modeled after Texas’s anti-abortion law, I’m sure you’re both aware of this, that allows citizens to sue anyone who distributes banned assault weapons, you know, weapons without serial numbers, firearms, sellers who sell to people under 21, that kind of thing. And the idea is obviously that would have a chilling effect, but also despite the fact that most legal experts think, you know, this kind of structure for a law is just a terrible idea, the idea was, “Well, if the U.S. Supreme Court wouldn’t act to stop the Texas law from going into effect, it can’t act to stop the California law from going into effect without exposing itself, it’s a nakedly partisan institution.” What do you two think of a law like that in Illinois? Is it purely symbolic? Would it do anything? Is it a good idea, a bad idea?
Steve Elrod: Mayor, I’ll let you start. I have my own thoughts on this.
Nancy Rotering: I want to hear your thoughts too.
Steve Elrod: We haven’t discussed.
Jonathan Amarilio: I mean, I know I’ve asked a good question when I see that look of awkwardness on my guest’s face.
Steve Elrod: Right.
Jonathan Amarilio: So, let’s get into this.
Steve Elrod: Well, I’ll give you my thoughts as a lawyer. I would prefer a solid, already-tested, complete ban on assault weapons. If we can get Illinois to do that, I think it would be a great step in the right direction. Several states have already done it. We’re in the Seventh Circuit here in Illinois, where the Seventh Circuit has very clearly stated that an assault weapon ban falls squarely within the Second Amendment, it’s does not violate the second amendment, it falls within the exception to the Heller Case. I think we ought to do something that we know is lawful and works. I am intrigued and amused by Governor Newsom’s signing of the California law. I’m concerned about it because, as a lawyer, I had concerns about the law in Texas. I had concerns about setting up the ability for private lawsuits. I don’t care what the subject was, whether it was abortion or not. Now in the gun or assault weapon arena, I have concerns about that kind of law, but our focus here in Illinois ought to be on a complete ban, join the other states that already have that in place.
Jonathan Amarilio: Mayor, you were nodding.
Nancy Rotering: I agree. I think there are limited resources, and there’s a limited attention span by the American public to get anything accomplished. I think when you have sort of circus efforts, and I call this a circus effort because I don’t think it’s based in how we as a nation want to apply our laws and move forward with policy, then we lose the ability to achieve real change. We saw how so many other municipalities in Illinois went through gymnastics to try to fit within this little 10-day window after the fact, and again there are a lot of time and a lot of emotion hearings, people who were impacted by gun violence were showing up at hearings and sharing their pain in an effort to get something done, but these were gymnastics.
Let’s call it for what it is. There’s a very real need for a policy change. There’s a very real need for an honest conversation in this country about what we’re willing to put up with. And let’s be also clear that a lot of us have very real concerns about how consistent the Supreme Court is going to be when they say one thing to another, and then the next week go a completely different route in terms of differing sort of decisions and opinions. I don’t think we can even count on them to be consistent in their inconsistency, if that makes sense. So, I would much rather be direct clear in what we’re trying to achieve and change the laws.
Trisha Rich: So, Highland Park has really put together a blueprint of what an effective law on this issue would be, and that’s been upheld at the Seventh Circuit and at the Supreme Court; and we now have a number of Representatives that are talking about this in the news and we have a number of other states that have these assault weapons bans as Steve has mentioned. How are we going to get this done in Springfield? Where are the votes coming from? How does it happen?
Nancy Rotering: Well, I know that the courage bill that’s being considered, or will be considered at some point, by the House of Representatives of Illinois, has 57 co-sponsors, and I believe they need 60 votes for it to pass. I recognize that in the upcoming veto session because of their rules, they would need 71 votes. So, they may hold it until the lame-duck session and then move forward with it with hopefully three more at least, if not more joining and passing it out of the House. I believe in the Senate, there are 17 co-sponsors. They need 30 for something to pass and you can be absolutely sure that I’m going to be communicating with every mayor in the state about what this does to your community in terms of the pain, the agony, the toll on just people’s ability to move forward in their lives and that they all need to get on the phone with folks who they voted in to represent us and move this forward.
Steve Elrod: I think it’s going to help that the many, many communities that did not make it within the window provided in 2013 and now want to do something now have great incentive and motivation to contact their state legislatures to adopt something statewide.
Nancy Rotering: Absolutely.
Jonathan Amarilio: Mayor, you said something earlier that caught my attention, and it’s especially in the way the post Sandy Hook lawsuits have played out. I think perhaps one of the brighter spots in the gun regulation effort which is private lawsuits against gun manufacturers, which have been upheld recently and maybe it’s just the lawyer in me, but it strikes me as there’s no better way to get at this problem and start making the gun manufacturers feel the pain of these incidents. Because that kind of corrective action we’ve seen in a hundred other scenarios has a very real and immediate impact when it starts affecting companies bottom lines. Do you see something like that happening in Illinois?
Nancy Rotering: I would like to see something like that happen. Obviously, tobacco opioids —
Jonathan Amarilio: Right.
Nancy Rotering: Those industries have been held accountable for the harm that they’ve done to human life. I think there needs to be an opportunity for this to also occur within the gun industry.
Steve Elrod: It gets very complicated. You know, back in 2005, Congress adopted the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act that basically shields gun manufacturers. But there is an exception in that Act as we learn through the lawsuit in Connecticut that allows a lawsuit to be brought against gun manufacturers under the exception to that Act if there’s a State Law that is violated such as an Unfair Trades or Consumer Fraud Act Statewide, and there was a Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act that the litigants there were able to have standing to bring the lawsuit against Remington Arms, the manufacturer of the gun that was used in Sandy Hook.
Jonathan Amarilio: And Illinois has a similar law, too.
Steve Elrod: Illinois has two laws that — there’s the Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Practices Act.
Jonathan Amarilio: Right.
Steve Elrod: And the Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act that could provide some sort of basis for a lawsuit against Smith & Wesson, the manufacturer of the gun in this case, as an exception to the Act. Now, California recently, another law that California adopted, not the one we are just talking about, that made it easier for a litigant to fall within the exception of the Federal Law. That may be something that the Illinois State Legislature could consider.
Jonathan Amarilio: Because that is, you know, Americans are notoriously anti-regulatory people.
We regulate through lawsuits in this country, don’t we?
Trisha Rich: Right.
Steve Elrod: As you well know, Jonathan.
Jonathan Amarilio: Yeah. It keeps us employed.
Steve Elrod: Yes. That’s exactly, right. So, we look to find various exceptions to the Regulations and to see whether the Regulations themselves could be used to enable a lawsuit.
Trisha Rich: Well, we’re running short on time, and we know that you both have a lot of stuff to do today. That is I say more important than being on our podcast and thank you for all of your hard work on this area. We really appreciate you both being here. Do you have any parting thoughts on this issue before we close?
Nancy Rotering: I think it’s important to note that we, as a nation, are unique in allowing this kind of violence to pervade our everyday life. In Australia, when there was a mass shooting, a very conservative Prime Minister took immediate action and banned assault weapons. So too in New Zealand. We deserve better than what’s being provided by our current elected leadership. They need to recognize the very real human toll that these guns, these combat weapons, have on our communities and I am just urging everybody who is tired of living this way to say enough is enough and send a note to your elected representative; send a note to your mayor. Say it’s time for us to do something and let’s not be afraid anymore. Let’s go forward with our heart strong and our heads high, and reclaim our country, because it ours, and we deserve to live in freedom.
Jonathan Amarilio: Steve?
Steve Elrod: I’m going to take my parting note on a much more personal level. I have — I’m in the unique position of not only being the attorney for the City of Highland Park, but I’m also a resident of the City of Highland Park, and I have been for 40 years. I want to say how tremendously proud I am of my Mayor, of my elected officials, all of them, the entire City Council. They all came to Washington to support Mayor Rotering in the testimony that she so eloquently delivered to the United States Senate Judiciary Committee. And just watching her move from parade moment, to evacuation moment, to now taking action has been wonderfully impressive. I’m very, very impressed with Mayor Rotering. I’m impressed with our City Manager, Ghida Neukirch, who has been working night and day on this matter. And I am very impressed with the Highland Park Police Department, the Highland Park Fire Department. As Mayor Rotering testified, they did everything right. And that may be in contrast to other police departments in other mass shootings. This police department ran to the danger and they have done everything right. It makes me proud to be a Highland Parker.
Nancy Rotering: Thank you, Steve.
Jonathan Amarilio: Well said, both. We’ll be right back.
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Jonathan Amarilio: That’s probably as good a place as any to end this episode. Mayor, Steve, thank you for joining us. I know this isn’t the kind of conversation you ever wanted to have, but I think we’re all better for hearing about your experiences and your efforts to make our community safer. When programming note, rather than end today’s episode with stranger than legal fiction and our usual sign, Trish, Jen, Adam and I are going to leave you and our audience with a few more excerpts from those witnesses and victims we heard from at the top of the episode. We thought it fitting that they have the last word today. For everyone here at the CBA, thank you for joining us and we’ll see you soon @theBar.
Abby Brosio: I’m Abby Brosio. I am a seventh-grade science teacher and my husband is the manager of Gearhead Outfitters in Highland Park, and my family ventured out to Highland Park on the Fourth of July to see the parade. I was with my three-year-old and my one-year-old and my mother and father-in-law.
Jared Fishman: My name is Jared Fishman. I’m an attorney and a resident of Highland Park for the last 14 years.
Bob Morgan: My name is Bob Morgan. I’m the State Representative for the 58th District in Illinois which includes Highland Park.
David Goldenberg: My name is David Goldenberg. I’m a Highland Park resident and the Midwest Regional Director for the Anti-Defamation League.
Bob Morgan: I told my wife that I’m going to go see how I can help and went running towards the seed and came across a young two-year-old who was screaming. She was there with her grandmother and helped carry the little girl away from the scene. Turns out her — both of her parents have been shot and survived but was the hardest part for me, for sure.
Abby Brosio: Really, it’s like a moment-by-moment, day-by-day thing, you know, there could be a word brought up in a conversation or a thought that I get in my brain or just, you know, as I’m trying to go to bed at night or when I wake up in the morning just, you know, trying to believe that this isn’t reality but then having to come to terms with it again. I actually attended my graduation for my Master’s program this weekend, and it was like the first big outing I went to. It was me and my husband and the whole time I just looked around and I anticipated hearing that sound again and what I would do, I just — it’s really hard to think that I could live this way and especially getting some of that anticipation and the nerves of going back to school being that, you know, I’m in an occupation where this tends to happen a lot. So, it’s been a lot to cope with.
Jared Fishman: When you think of the faces and the terror being experienced by those, my own mother was inconsolable. She demanded to find us. And in the course of rage encounter with me and then with my family, snug broken as many people did completely at a loss to understand how such violence could happen.
David Goldenberg: The people who are most prepared to respond to this were the kids, they’re the ones who go through active shooter drills. They know where to go and there were lots of reports of kids and families who are immediately right there could hear the gunshots, kids recognizing what it was and what was going on before parents even. And so for us, the minute we saw the marching band yelling their shots been fired, someone has a gun, you know, I’m a parent, right? That’s what I am.
Bob Morgan: I make a point whatever I can to stop by downtown Highland Park at the scene at this point. I know a lot of people want to avoid the area and other people who are committed to going there every day. Everyone’s doing with their own trauma in their own way, and there’s still people who are doing a number of medical needs. Some people are still in the hospital. A lot of people are going to have to have future surgeries. We have a lot of children who were there who experienced some horrific things that we would be dealing with in the future and near future, long-term and a lot of community members that want to take action. So, we’re hearing every day from hundreds of people in the community that want the state and federal government to act on gun safety legislation.
Abby Brosio: I did fly to Washington DC with March 4th, a week after the shooting and really I didn’t feel one way or the other honestly about this issue really before, you know. When Uvalde happened, it was my last day of school. And it’s really hard to stand in front of my students and say I’m sorry, we haven’t figured this out yet, but I think that the solution is really simple. An assault weapons have no place in our society for civilians. They really don’t serve a purpose, and I don’t want anybody to have to envision and experience the trauma that I am experiencing every day watching a person intentionally try to hurt my children and the innocent people around us. Nobody should have to experience this. This needs to change.
Jared Fishman: You’re looking for the why and the idea that someone just glorified violence and wanted to be the next mass shooter is a really difficult why to swallow and accept.
David Goldenberg: The tragedy is easy for most people to understand. What is hard I think at this stage of it is apathy because no one in our community wants to see this happen elsewhere. No one wants anyone else to experience things like this and yet the narrative moves on and action becomes the norm, has been the norm after every other tragedy of the similar nature and that is very hard to accept as the reality of our situation.
Bob Morgan: As a parent, I mean, what there have been more mass shootings than days this year. The one in Highland Park —
— Uvalde, Buffalo, those get a lot of attention. But there are mass shootings in cities every single day, unfortunately, and this culture that that’s how were going to solve problems is deeply concerning and, you know, the effect that it has had on my kids. Effect it’s had on me and my wife and our friends who experienced this, it’s chilling. I was fortunate. I got to go to the White House for the — they called it they built it as a celebration for the passage of gun control bills and in a violence prevention bill. And it was like it was chilling to stand in line —
— with a colleague of mine pointing at kids in line and parents in line. So you know those are the parents of so and so. Those are the Parkland kids. Those are so until like that’s how we’re identifying people in this group of nearly 1,000 people who are at the White House, and all of them had ties to mass shootings in some form or fashion or gun violence in some form or fashion and it’s sad. It’s angering and there’s something that we’ve got to do. We’ve got to change the culture around guns in this country and we have to address it in a very holistic way.
Jonathan Amarilio: It won’t come as a surprise to our regular listeners that this show often includes discussion of political opinions and beliefs. Please know that any such statements by our hosts and guests are solely theirs and do not reflect one way or the other the positions of the Chicago Bar Association, which is a strictly non-partisan organization. Seeking to expand your legal network, sharpened your skills and obtain free CLE, unless you plan on being a professional failure, this is probably a good idea. Join the Chicago Bar Association today an connect with lawyers and judges who leads Chicago’s legal community. The CBA will help you expand your personal and professional networks while providing practical programs and resources that meet your specific practice needs. New lawyer membership starts at just $82 a year. Learn more at www.chicagobar.org.