Chicago school officials and students took their plea for stricter gun laws to the state capitol this week in the wake of several high-profile incidents of violence.A group of Taft High School students traveled to Springfield yesterday to push for gun restrictions. They were preceded by a group of Clemente High School students and delegation including Chicago Board of Education President Rufus Williams and Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan, earlier in the week.
"The thing we know for sure is that we can't teach them if they're scared, we can't teach them if the teachers are scared and we certainly can't teach them if they're dead," Williams says.At Crane Tech, principal Richard Smith and Ald. Bob Fioretti organized a safe-passage program to get students to school and back home again safely. The police have helped in that process, and added constant police presence around the school on West Jackson Boulevard.
CPS and Chicago police security levels have been stepped at other schools, too.
The district has added after-school and Saturday programs at over 150 schools, including parental programs, and music, arts and sports programs for students. Duncan says more funding from the state would allow more of the district's 600 schools to have such programs.
But even the extra-day classes have been a problem. Last month, a student was gunned down leaving Saturday classes at Simeon Career Academy, 8147 S. Vincennes.
"We have to challenge parents, we have to challenge blocks, we have to challenge communities to take back their streets, take back their blocks, take back their neighborhoods," Duncan says. "Where folks are carrying guns, where there are gang-bangers, folks have to say this isn't acceptable on my block, on my street. It is hard, it takes courage, but that has to happen. People have to step up."
The city's proposals for gun reform includes requiring handgun dealers to be licensed by the State Police, a ban on semi-automatic assault weapons and .50-caliber military rifles, a purchase limit of one handgun per month, and trigger-lock restrictions for those with children residing in their homes.
As school officials and politicians call for stricter gun legislation, they will run into opposition. After a gun-reform rally last week Illinois State Rifle Association Executive Director Richard Pearson took his shots at Duncan.
"Maybe if Duncan did a better job keeping his charges in school, they wouldn't be out on the streets beating, knifing and shooting one another to death," Pearson said in a statement.
Paul Bowker, a Chicago-area journalist with 25 years of experience, covers Chicago Public Schools for the Daily News.