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Moms Demand Action Aims to Change State Law Regarding Gun-Free Zone Signs

Nicole Chen shows students the guns-prohibited sign during her speech.
Illinois chapter leader for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, Nicole Chen shows students the guns-prohibited sign during her speech on Feb. 12.

The front door of South Loop Elementary School bears two signs: one welcomes students and visitors, and the second shows a red slash through a handgun.

Under the new Illinois concealed carry law, these signs are posted everywhere that handguns are prohibited — mainly public buildings such as libraries, museums, government offices and schools. Additionally, private property owners are required to place it at the entrance of their property if they wish to prohibit firearms.

In a speech at Columbia College Chicago on Wednesday, Nicole Chen, Illinois leader of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said the group wants to change the state law. Under the group’s proposal, signs would be posted on doors if guns are allowed.

She explained that the change in the law would mean her children would no longer have to see a gun symbol on the front door of their pre-school.

Illinois legislators passed a new conceal carry law last year. Under the law, after residents secure a permit, they can begin carrying guns into designated public places. The first permits are expected to be issued next month.

“We know that the legislature took little pause thinking about putting these signs up at sensitive places such as pre-schools and daycares,” Chen said. “We know that they didn’t think about the effect that our children, looking at these signs, would have every day.”

The organization is lobbying the state legislature this year in favor of Senate Bill 2669, sponsored by Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park), which would require private property owners to post signs saying guns are allowed.

Founded the day after the 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., Moms Demand Action is a nonpartisan organization whose goal is to end gun violence by spreading awareness.

The organization has chapters in all 50 states and over 100,000 members, Chen said.

“We’re starting to pay attention to gun laws, gun policies and gun safety,” Chen said. “Before Newtown, there wasn’t really a moms focused group that was looking at this. Now we’re paying attention.”

The group is also calling for advanced background checks on gun and ammunition purchases, as well as a ban on assault weapons and ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. The organization is also working to require child-safe gun technology.

Despite publicly stating its support for the Second Amendment, Moms Demand Action has faced opposition from gun advocate groups, such as the Illinois State Rifle Association.

“Our organization has become a lightning rod,” Chen said. “We take the brunt of the NRA and a lot of the gun lobby’s efforts right now.”

The ISRA opposes many of the efforts by Moms Demand Action, including its push for reversed signage, saying the signs are unnecessary and ineffective.

“The signs don’t prevent bad guys from having guns,” said Richard Pearson, executive director of the ISRA, in a phone interview.

The ISRA is also against any enhanced background checks for gun buyers, he said.

“They want to background check us to death and make it as difficult as possible to buy a gun,” said Pearson, who also said that further restrictions would ensure that only the “bad guys” have guns.

Pearson said the only way to decrease violent crime is to enforce existing laws.

“The laws are out there, they’re just not enforcing them,” he said, noting that people who are charged with gun possession often avoid jail time by agreeing to a plea bargain.

Chen said public attitudes toward guns are deeply held and comparable to feelings about religion.

“Placing the word “ban” on anything draws an emotional response because it suggests a limit on freedom,” she said.

Gun lobbyists point to this limit when arguing against the changes proposed by groups such as Moms Demand Action, Chen said. She admitted that sometimes her organization feels like the gun lobby is holding all the power.

“I’m not discouraged,” Chen said of the power imbalance. “Once you get into this fight, you can’t turn away. I’m in it, and I can’t stop.”

Moms Demand Action is calling on the nation to have “difficult conversations” about gun violence and what measures can be taken to reduce it. Chen said she believes these conversations start at the most basic level: in communities and the people who live within them.

“We’re in this together,” Chen said. “This is about all our children.”

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