Faith community calls for gun registration

By Mark Minton

Approximately 40 Chicago clergymen gathered at St. James Cathedral, 65 E. Huron St., on Sept. 7 to compile signatures on a petition to increase gun control.

The petition, part of a project called Pass the Bill, is being enacted by the Chicago Clergy Coalition, an interfaith group of religious leaders. The CCC aims to draw attention to Chicago’s increasing gun violence and pass the Certificate of Handguns Registration Act when the Illinois General Assembly addresses gun legislation in November.

According to Rev. Susan Johnson from Hyde Park Union Church, 5600 S. Woodlawn Ave., Chicago has lost more than 1,300 youths to violence—597 under age 20 and another 708 who are 21-26 years old.

Johnson said that while the majority of youth affected by violence are Hispanic and African-American, no neighborhood is free of violence.

According to Joy Rogers, dean of St. James Cathedral, the proposed solution to Chicago gun violence is more comprehensive gun control laws. The act would require all gun owners to register their handguns with the Illinois State Police, present a certificate of registration to transfer gun ownership and report the theft or loss of a firearm to law enforcement within 72 hours.

“I think the point of the conference for me that was so powerful is that we all know we need to stop this,” Rogers said. “It’s not a black problem. It’s not a South Side problem. It’s the city’s problem.”

In addition to registering guns with police, the law also seeks to ban assault weapons.

“We believe registration would help close some of the issues of guns getting into the illegal market,” said Mark Walsh, campaign director of the Illinois Council Against Gun Violence. “There is no need for people to carry or have in their possession a military-style assault weapon.”

The CCC is leveraging its religious influence to strengthen gun laws  in response to one of Chicago’s bloodiest summers to date. Rogers said coordinated efforts among people of faith will help illuminate the issue.

“The faith community can be a sleeping giant as a voice in this process,” Rogers said. “Politicians have to be responsible to constituencies. The faith communities can provide constituencies across a really broad network of people. That could make a difference.”

According to the CCC, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms reported that 88 percent of firearm traces in 2000 led to someone other than the original purchaser.

According to the Illinois General Assembly website, implementing such a potentially expensive program might be too much for police stations to fund.

A General Assembly summary suggests it would cost nearly $3 million to develop an information technology system and hire the necessary staff to support it.

Rabbi Michael Balinsky, executive vice president of the Chicago Board of Rabbis, said members of the faith community are confident that the effort to pass “common sense legislation” is necessary.

“Chicago is one of the most religiously diverse communities around,” Balinsky said. “The gathering of signatures is another example of the religious community getting involved in serious issues. The goal is to get some common sense legislation passed in Illinois and, hopefully, on a federal level.”