Arguing that exposure to gun violence violates civil rights and disabilities law, three Chicago women filed a class action lawsuit against the state of Illinois. The women — Demetria Powell, Tanya Reese, and Tywanna Patrick — filed suit in federal court on Wednesday naming various state agencies and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner as plaintiffs.
Each woman has lost a family member to violence and has a minor child or grandchild that has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder they chalk up to area shootings. As such, they argue that Rauner and state agencies, by not upping gun regulations, are violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Illinois Civil Rights Act.
“We all know that crime guns are flooding into our city and killing our children,” said Tom Geoghegan, one of the attorneys representing the women, The Trace reported. “But it’s also destroying – emotionally, psychologically, in the most profound ways – the survivors, the children who are not left dead by this epidemic of violence.”
Geoghegan is a partner of Despres, Schwartz & Geoghegan, a Chicago firm specializing in class actions and consumer advocacy. In 2015, Geoghegan sued the Illinois suburbs of Lyons, Lincolnwood, and Riverdale on behalf of two women whose son’s were fatally shot, arguing the local governments did not regulate gun shops in their area strictly enough, which in turn allowed guns to flow into urban Chicago itself.
In the latest case, the plaintiffs are not seeking money but rather a court order to make officials adopt statewide regulations on gun trafficking “in order to eliminate the adverse racial impact of gun violence on African-American children.”
The 29-page filing cites that some 40 percent of crime guns recovered in Chicago come from gun stores inside the state, with seven suburban gun stores providing the bulk of those firearms. With the failure to adopt more regulations on gun shops in the state, the plaintiffs argue that the absence of such additional red tape has an adverse impact on black children in urban Chicago, thus violating their civil rights.
“The defendants’ failure to issue reasonable gun trafficking regulations in order to reduce the level of gun violence to which the plaintiff children are exposed, under the authority granted to the Illinois Department of State Police, has had an adverse effect upon African-American children, in that they have endured and continue to endure the effects of gun violence, causing them to become disabled, and preventing them from obtaining a public education,” said attorney Michael P. Persoon in the filing.
The plaintiffs are seeking to establish as a class all African-American children under the age of 18 who live or lived in the City of Chicago who are disabled or at risk of being disabled on account of their exposure to gun violence. Falling back on data from the University of Chicago Crime Lab, the complaint points out that five predominantly black Chicago neighborhoods have astronomical homicide rates compared to the national rate of about five per 100,000 persons. In the Chicago neighborhood of Austin, the 2016 homicide rate was 87.3 per 100,000 persons. In Englewood, 179.5. In West Englewood, 105. New City, 98. Grand Crossing 103.
At the same time, a number of predominantly white and more affluent neighborhoods had no homicides. The claim then interjects studies showing that students from neighborhoods affected by high crime rates have lower test scores and a greater difficulty in learning when compared to children who are not exposed to such crime.
The answer, as advocated by the lawsuit, is a 12-step set of new regulations aimed at gun retailers in Illinois that include regular audits of the store’s inventory and books by local police, a State Police firearms registration system to track all gun firearm transfers, a “do not sell” list of gun buyers who have had guns recovered at crime scenes, and a mandatory requirement for security enhancements such as exterior lighting, surveillance cameras, alarm systems.
“The defendants have no reasonable basis for not adopting reasonable gun trafficking regulations,” the complaint said.