Highland Park mayor urges federal action on assault weapons in wake of parade mass shooting

Highland Park is now less than a month away from marking one year since the July Fourth parade mass shooting that left seven dead and injured dozens of others.

It happened amid the mayor's longtime fight against assault weapons, and played a major role in prompting Illinois lawmakers to pass a ban on assault weapons. But it's a fight she says is far from over.

In part two of his special report, Anthony Ponce sits down with Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering.

"At the beginning, we were so jubilant. It was perfect weather. We hadn't seen the parade for two years," said Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering.

A packed parade route of families, flags, and joy until 10:14 a.m., when the shooting started.


Highland Park prepares for one-year remembrance of parade shooting tragedy

The city of Highland Park is now less than a month away from marking one-year since the parade shooting that took the lives of seven, and left dozens of others injured.

"I'm the mother of band members and I remember turning to the city attorney and saying, 'it is so odd that the music has stopped,'" Rotering said.

Rotering vividly remembers how the children seemed to comprehend what was happening before the parents and grandparents.

"The kids immediately reacted because we've been training these students, these children their entire lives for what happens when an active shooter comes into your life, but for those of us who are older, this isn't something we've been trained for," she said.

Even heading into that tragic day, mass shootings were top-of-mind for Rotering. Uvalde had just happened six weeks earlier, and she'd just penned a letter to the president and speaker of the house urging a federal assault weapons ban, similar to the one she helped passed in Highland Park a decade ago.

"When the governor came to offer his condolences two to three hours later, I showed him the letter and said, 'is this enough? When is it enough? When can we take this action," Rotering said.

This past January, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law the Protect Illinois Communities Act, banning the sale and distribution of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

"I appreciate that the state took action in January, but we need a federal ban," Rotering said.

She points out the Giffords organization statistic that between 1994 and 2004, when a national assault weapons ban was in effect, mass shooting deaths dropped by over 70%.

"When we look at our peer nations, nobody else allows the public to have access to weapons of war like we do," Rotering said.

That message, she says, has fallen on deaf ears, some of them in Washington. The week after the shooting, she testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which includes Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.


"It seemed like he wasn't listening at all, and busy doing something on his phone, and then brushed us off, like, ‘you people live near Chicago,'" Rotering said of the hearing.

"A, how obnoxious and rude to people in Chicago, also dealing with the terror of ongoing gun violence. And B, just being so dismissive of what we were trying to say," she added.

And back here in Illinois, a coalition of roughly 80 sheriffs and state's attorneys vowed to refuse to enforce the assault weapons ban, something Rotering calls "a dereliction of their duties."

"They are hired and elected to enforce the laws that the state passes," she said.

But despite the numbing effect of just how normalized mass shootings have seemed to become, Rotering senses a pendulum shift, with Washington state recently becoming the 10th state to ban assault weapons.

"It says to me that we have an opportunity here as a nation to take action. So let's get it done," Rotering said.

In a few weeks, Highland Park will mark one year; not with a parade, but with a community walk.

"To me, it felt like too jarring of a switch. That we need to transition from where we are, and reclaiming the parade route felt like a way to say, you know what, evil doesn't win and we aren't going to let this take away the Fourth of July. But this year, the parade is not appropriate. This year, community gathering and reclaiming the parade route felt appropriate," Rotering said.

"This year we are mourning and recognizing and reflecting, but I promise you, you will always be able to celebrate the Fourth of July," she said.

This year's remembrance will include a moment of silence at 10:14 a.m. for the seven lives taken. And it'll be livestreamed, for those residents not ready to be in a crowd.