‘If I can save one life’: Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering discusses next steps on gun control


Esther Lim/Daily Senior Staffer

Mayor Nancy Rotering. Rotering has advocated for gun control since at least 2013.

Pavan Acharya and Aviva Bechky

Content warning: This article contains discussions of gun violence.

On July 11, Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering stood in the Oval Office and spoke with President Joe Biden about the need for a federal assault weapons ban. It was just a week after the mass shooting at the Highland Park Fourth of July parade.

“This kind of carnage, this kind of devastation, lands in America’s front yard,” Rotering said. “It’s easy to be in Washington going, ‘Boy, that’s a terrible thing for that community.’ But it is the mayor, and it’s the local representatives and the school boards who are faced with this fear and faced with this violence and then deal with this horrific aftermath.”

Rotering has advocated for gun reform throughout her political career. As Highland Park’s mayor, she signed a citywide assault weapons ban in 2013 and teaches about gun control and political advocacy at Northwestern as an adjunct lecturer. On Jan. 10, she and other gun reform advocates celebrated when Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a statewide ban on assault weapon sales and distribution.

Though an appellate court upheld a temporary restraining order against the Illinois ban Tuesday, Rotering and Gun Violence Prevention PAC CEO Kathleen Sances said the ban still represented a significant stride forward.

Sances said the ban couldn’t have passed one year ago. It only became possible, she said, because of heavily covered mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas; Buffalo, New York; and Highland Park. 

“This conflation of national things happening, and in our state, that it just created a really good public outcry,” Sances said. “It forced our governor to come out immediately and say he supported an assault weapons ban.”

But Rotering said the statewide ban doesn’t go far enough to prevent gun violence in Illinois. According to an ABC News investigation, more than half of guns used in crimes in Illinois came from out of state, including 16.7% from Indiana and 5.4% from Missouri.

While Rotering acknowledged that increased mental health services help prevent gun violence, she said limiting access to dangerous weapons is the key goal.

Rotering said she tries to bring gun control advocates to her classroom. She has taught Special Topics in Social Policy 351: Women and American Political Leadership, a class SESP junior Mary Slowinski said helped many students decide they wanted to run for political office.

“I definitely got a lot more comfortable with the idea of using my voice for particular policy issues,” Slowinski said. “(The class was) really demystifying what it looks like to be a public official and the work that goes into it.”

Slowinski also said Rotering helped connect NU students with local advocates, such as Tender Youth Foundation founder Delphine Cherry.

“I have lost kids to gun violence,” Cherry said. “I go speak on that piece from a mother’s perspective of losing children to gun violence.”

Cherry said she applauds Rotering for her efforts to highlight the abnormality of gun violence in her curriculum.

Even though Illinois has now passed an assault weapons ban, advocates like Cherry and Rotering said they’d like to see more reform, including requiring bullets to be microstamped and thus identifiable.

Rotering said she knows she can’t stop gun violence in America. But as she continues to advocate on local, state and national levels simultaneously, she said she’s trying to focus on the individual impact she can make.

“If I can save one life, I’ve saved one life,” Rotering said.

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Twitter: @PavanAcharya02

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