Durbin Meets with Urban Prep Students to Discuss Overcoming Influence of Gangs, Gun Violence

[CHICAGO] - U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today visited Urban Prep Academy’s West campus to meet with students and hear how they overcame difficult circumstances while growing up in some of Chicago's poorest neighborhoods. The students shared stories of how, despite growing up in high-crime communities, they have opted to avoid street violence and instead enroll at Urban Prep, a high-performing network of charter schools in the city.


“Guns and gangs can be an enticing draw for young men growing up in some of Chicago’s high-poverty communities,” Durbin said. “The students I met today decided to turn their backs on that dangerous influence and instead invest in themselves by pursuing an education. I applaud them for overcoming these obstacles to reach Urban Prep.”


During the meeting, Durbin also discussed the gun violence legislation which the Senate will begin voting on next week. The package of bills, which were reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee last month, moved to the floor for debate after clearing a key procedural hurdle yesterday.


“Yesterday we took an important step forward in the effort to curb gun violence,” Durbin said. “We’ve moved past the threat of an initial filibuster and this important package of bills will now be debated and voted on. My colleagues and I have been working hard with concerned parties of all political stripes to craft this sensible legislation, and I urge my fellow Senators to act quickly to pass it. For too long we have failed to address our nation’s high level of gun violence. Now is the time to act.”


One piece of that legislation is the Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act, which Durbin crafted along with a bipartisan group of colleagues including U.S. Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL). The bill aims to shut down the pipeline of illicit guns that supplies criminals and gangs by punishing and deterring straw purchasing, an all-too-common practice in which someone with a clean background purchases a gun for another who cannot buy one themselves. It establishes the first specific straw purchasing offense in federal law, threatening up to 15 year prison sentences for straw purchasers that can increase to 25 years if the straw purchaser knows or has reasonable cause to believe that the gun will be used to commit a crime of violence. A crucial portion of the legislation is named for Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old Chicago honors student who was killed by gang gunfire in January.


On Wednesday, U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Susan Collins (R-ME), two of the Act’s other original sponsors, announced they had reached an agreement with the National Rifle Association on a revised version of the bill. The new version, which will be offered as an amendment during voting next week, includes additional technical language to ensure that lawful gun purchasers can buy firearms from licensed dealers to give as bona fide gifts, raffle or contest prizes, gratuities or bonuses to lawful users. The modified version also includes other technical amendments to conform the bill to existing law regarding the forfeiture of firearms and ammunition.


In addition to Durbin’s bill, the legislation the Senate will vote on next week contains two other provisions. One, the Protecting Responsible Gun Sellers Act, would ensure that a FBI background check is conducted on all firearms transactions, with reasonable exceptions. The bill expands the existing gun dealer background check system to cover other commercial sales, including at gun shows and on the Internet, and strengthens the existing instant check system by encouraging states to input all their available records into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. It also establishes a National Commission on Mass Violence, which will conduct in-depth studies of all the causes of mass violence in the United States. 


A bipartisan deal reached between U.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) and announced earlier this week would exempt certain private gun sales, such as between family members, friends or neighbors, from the Protecting Responsible Gun Sellers Act’s requirements. The Manchin-Toomey agreement will be the first amendment to the gun violence legislation considered by the Senate next week.


The third bill in the package is the School and Campus Safety Enhancements Act. The Act reauthorizes the U.S. Department of Justice’s Secure Our Schools program, which provides grants for school security, and also creates a national center for campus public safety that would provide training and best practices to colleges and universities.


The Senate Judiciary Committee, on which Durbin sits, has held three hearings on the subject in recent weeks, including one on the Second Amendment which Durbin chaired. It then passed the three pieces of legislation now moving to the Senate floor. The committee also passed a bill to limit new assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.