Suburban activist, Chicago lawmaker hope allowing civil suits against illegal gun sellers will ‘send a message’Rachel Hintonon September 28, 2021 at 10:30 am

Gun violence has cost Brenda Mitchell her son, her brother, several close friends and two godchildren.

Those deaths pushed the south suburban University Park woman to work with Purpose Over Pain, Father Michael Pfleger and other activists to combat gun trafficking, straw purchases and seek other ways to “help stop the bleed.”

“Unfortunately, the victims are getting younger and younger, and it’s like, as a humane society, when do we say ‘enough?’ When do we say ‘stop the bleed?'” Mitchell asked.

The suburban activist is supporting legislation that state Rep. Margaret Croke, D-Chicago, plans to file soon.

The North Side Democrat, who sought Mitchell’s opinion on her legislation, hopes her bill targeting straw dealers will act as a “deterrent” to those illegal purchases and transfers of guns.

Croke’s legislation would allow Illinois residents to bring a civil suit against the manufacturer, importer or dealer of a firearm if they, or a loved one, are hurt or killed as a result of the unlawful discharge of a gun in the state.

State Rep. Margaret Croke speaks at a news conference on the North Side in July.Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Only illegal sales would be targeted under Croke’s legislation. A gun linked to one unlawful injury, would mean that seller could only be sued once, but if the gun is linked to 20 or more shootings, that could mean 20 or more suits against the seller, Croke said.

The lawmaker pointed to news reports on illegal guns being used in shootings in the city as part of her push to file the legislation.

“I don’t see a lot of deterrence when it comes to the straw dealers and the illegal transfer of guns right now,” Croke said. “I see a lot of penalties in the criminal justice system, which I agree with … but I don’t see anything deterring the sale of illegal guns, and I also think Chicago has the opportunity to be a leader on this. … We have an opportunity to lead, for other states to copy this legislation and create a safer environment, safer neighborhoods for our kids and for our families.”

Croke’s measure is also called the Protecting Heartbeats Act, a reference to Texas’ recent legislation that placed a near-total ban on abortions in that state. The controversial Texas law puts enforcement in the hands of private citizens filing civil lawsuits, rather than prosecutors filing criminal charges.

The Chicago-based state lawmaker said she hopes to bring her anti-gun trafficking bill up for a vote during the General Assembly’s veto session, which is slated for six days during the last two weeks of October.

Croke said the point is to hold people accountable in a civil situation for “doing something that is already illegal” and added she’s not going after legal gun owners or Firearm Owner Identification card holders, but rather “people who have decided that they are going to break the law and they are going to sell these guns in order to make a profit.”

A table of guns Chicago Police say officers confiscated is displayed during a news conference at at police headquarters last year. Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Mitchell said the measure would offer those who’ve lost a loved one to gun violence “a tool, a resource to go after the root, which could send a message” to illegal gun sellers.

But Richard Pearson, the head of the Illinois State Rifle Association, doesn’t think going after manufacturers is the way to curb the gun violence the state is seeing.

Pearson called the measure a “terrible bill” because the state “can’t control” what people do with guns or anything else.

He equated the measure to people suing farmers for accidents after agronomists sell their corn to an elevator that in turn sells the grain to a company that makes alcohol, which is “ridiculous.”

None of the gun laws already on the books in the U.S. will “stop criminal activity, no matter what you do, because criminals want to be criminals,” Pearson said.

“The only thing that has worked in the past is — when you get crime rates to drop — you put more police on the streets, you take the criminals who get caught, and you convict them and you put them in jail for a long time and people decide to stop doing bad stuff, but, until you do that, right now it’s just going the opposite way, like a revolving door,” Pearson said. “It’s a pretty terrible system right now.”

A spokeswoman for Gov. J.B. Pritzker said in a statement the governor “firmly believes we must explore every legal option to protect every life in this state and supports constructive conversations that move us closer to ending gun violence.

“He looks forward to reviewing the bill,” she said.

Mitchell said Illinois typically welcomes “pro common sense gun laws.”

“We’re burying our children, we are burying our potential, and you’re leaving families and communities traumatized by an ineffective view of a person’s Second Amendment rights,” Mitchell said.

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