Highland Park, Ill. is a town that anyone would be lucky to grow up in. Nestled along the shores of Lake Michigan, its tree-lined streets are idyllic and safe. It’s a small, tightly intertwined community that is vibrant and diverse.
I’m lucky to say that the town I go to college in is the only place I can think of that’s even more safe and more idyllic than the one I grew up in. Hanover is the quintessential American small town. It has rolling hills, farmer’s markets and a colorful main street. A river runs by it.
Like Highland Park, Hanover isn’t usually the kind of place where bad things happen. Like Highland Park, Hanover’s the kind of place where many of its residents are privileged enough to happily celebrate the Fourth of July.
My sister and I were witnessing Hanover’s Fourth of July celebration on our way back from breakfast this past Monday — families picnicking on the Green, horses giving rides to children clad in red, white and blue — when we learned of a mass shooting at our own town’s Fourth of July celebration, a parade that my sister likely would’ve attended had she not been visiting me.
As we blissfully ate breakfast in Hanover, planning our America-themed outfits for later, a man in Highland Park opened fire from the top of a building into the middle of the town’s downtown square with an assault weapon. In seconds, the scene of families ready for a day of fun, which I imagine was similar to the one playing out simultaneously on the Green, turned into one of people running for their lives. The lawn chairs, scooters and American flags left strewn across the streets serve as an eerie reminder of the joy the day was supposed to hold, and of the freedom we as Americans possess which now teeters so precariously. The shooter murdered seven people, orphaned a young boy and injured over two dozen others.
In September 2019, the Highland Park police visited the home of the shooter, Robert Crimo III. They came in response to a family member reporting that Crimo said he was “going to kill everyone.” During this visit, police seized 16 knives, a dagger and a sword from Crimo. They reported the incident to the Illinois State Police. But over the next three years, Crimo was able to legally purchase five firearms, including two assault rifles, which he then used to fire over 70 rounds into the Highland Park parade this past Monday.
The shooting was preventable. It likely wouldn’t have happened had there been better procedures in place. We need to ban assault weapons, or at the very least put in place strong enough laws that prevent a person from obtaining them when the police are aware they have claimed to want to kill people.
For those who insist upon the right to bear arms: would you rather have your assault weapon or your life? Your child’s life? Your mother’s? I’ve seen people brush that off as far too hypothetical of a question to mean anything. But as this week’s events and all 300+ mass shootings in America this year have shown, it’s not a hypothetical question. It’s a very real one, towards which we should take preemptive rather than reactive action.
Unlike Illinois, New Hampshire is one of the most gun-friendly states in the country. It lacks a series of important gun safety laws, including measures to bar gun possession from people who’ve been involuntarily committed or found to be a danger to others, and measures to allow mental health record-reporting in background checks. New Hampshire also lacks legislation protecting against the Charleston Loophole, which allows gun sales to proceed while a background check on the buyer is still pending.
So from one idyllic American town to the next, I urge all of us in Hanover, students and residents alike, to take action. I urge us to be proactive rather than reactive, a luxury that members of my community back in Illinois unfortunately no longer have. Whether it's calling elected officials or organizing petitions to instate specific gun laws, there are steps we can and should be taking to reduce the likelihood of more mass shootings. I urge us to take action not only because this week’s events have demonstrated that bad things can happen in “bad things don’t happen here” towns, but more importantly because we shouldn’t be waiting until it happens here to do something about it.
The problem with sayings such as “bad things don’t happen here” and “things like this shouldn’t happen here” is that they insinuate that there are places in America in which they should happen. That there are places in America where these kinds of events are somehow more warranted or more expected. The bottom line is mass shootings shouldn’t have to happen anywhere. They shouldn’t have to be warranted anywhere. They shouldn’t have to be expected anywhere, regardless of the socioeconomic status of a town, regardless of its demographic. Above all, we shouldn’t be waiting for tragedies like this to strike in our own areas before we do something about them.
Once again, I urge us to take action and to pressure whoever is in power — regardless of their party — to create and enforce better gun laws. In the aftermath of Monday’s shooting, a petition has been created to help move HB 5522, a bill that would ban assault weapons, out of the Illinois House of Representatives and into the Senate. People are circulating scripts for calling their Illinois representatives via social media to encourage the passing of the bill. We can be doing the same things here. We should be doing the same things here, before it’s too late.
Gracie Dickman is a member of the Class of 2024.
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