BY CLARE HOWARD
U.S. Rep. Danny Davis imagines his grandson saying, “But Granddad, you said if I’m home, I’m OK. I’m safe. You told me to be home when it’s dark.”
Rep. Davis shook his head.
“It never occurred to me I’d be grieving the death of my grandson shot in his own home,” the congressman said.
Javon Wilson, 15, was home Friday evening Nov. 18 when friends stopped by his family’s apartment. An argument ensued about clothes and gym shoes Javon’s sister and a friend had borrowed from each other. Wilson was shot in the neck and died at 7 p.m. The assailants, 16 and 17, fled and were later arrested.
“How does a 16- or 17-year-old get a gun?” Davis said. “If two people are in an argument and there is no weapon, they argue and fight and no one gets killed. With a gun, it’s so much easier.
“My grandson was the 701st person murdered in Chicago in 2016. Gun violence is a public health issue.”
By the time 2016 ended, the number of people shot and killed in Chicago during the year climbed to 762.
Davis, in Congress since 1997, gets an “F” from the National Rifle Association for his positions on gun regulation. He’s a steadfast advocate for background checks, waiting periods, bans on assault weapons and opposition to conceal-carry. He opposes “stand-your-ground” laws and would like to outlaw large capacity ammunition.
Research supports his positions. Gun carnage has not decreased with more permissive gun laws. Gun safety research shows conceal-carry gun owners are responsible for more homicides and suicides than acts of self-defense against criminals.
Davis, 75, represents Chicago’s 7th District. His district office is at 2815 W. Fifth Ave., not far from where Peorian Mark Clark was shot and killed in a December 1969 raid on the apartment of Fred Hampton, head of the state Black Panthers.
“The Second Amendment was written for people who live close to the wilderness and need a gun to protect themselves and to hunt,” Davis said.
Overall, his district includes 592,000 people, 34 percent white, 59 percent Black, 4 percent Asian and 7 percent Hispanic. Some areas of his district have unemployment rates of 40 to 50 percent.
“The quality of life in an urban neighborhood is diminished by guns. Last week, someone was shot across the street, someone was shot down the street,” Davis said. “Shootings are commonplace in this community.”
Davis said he has chosen to keep his constituent office in this neighborhood of East Garfield Park despite its high rates of poverty and crime so he is accessible to people living there.
“When people feel government is far from them, they feel government is not relevant to them,” he said.
“No politicians will tell you money influences their votes, but if it doesn’t, why do people keep giving money to them?” Davis said. “We know guns are not good for Chicago or other urban areas. Even sports enthusiasts don’t need semi-automatic weapons to hunt rabbit or deer. These are weapons of war.”
The NRA made $1.09 million in contributions to members of Congress last year and spent $3.18 million on lobbyists, according to the Center for Responsible Politics.
Davis said the death of his grandson further convinced him of the rightness of his advocacy against guns.
“I’ve got to step up my game. I’ve got to advocate against violence and the proliferation of handguns,” he said. “We have got to reduce the presence of handguns in our society.”
During a long interview in his East Garfield Park office, Davis said, “Yes, I get weary, I get disillusioned but never so disillusioned that I give up. Giving up is the same as being dead.
“We’re at a crossroads in our country. We’ve got to be careful or we’ll stop moving forward to a better era and start regressing back to dark, dark days.
“There is a fight going on, and if we’re not in it, it means we’re satisfied. If you don’t vote, it means you either don’t care or don’t understand.”
Davis talked about the strong work ethic of his father who farmed in Arkansas.
“The folks who preceded me worked like slaves to build this country. I owe them a debt of gratitude. I also owe them responsibility,” he said.
Davis is concerned about what will happen to his Congressional District if he retires. Chicago has lost population. Three large public housing projects in his district were torn down and replaced with one. There is a critical shortage of affordable housing, and residents are forced to move in order to find housing.
At one time, there were 24 congressional districts in Illinois and now there are 18.
“If I retire, I’m not sure my district has the population to be maintained,” Davis said.
In Peoria, Illinois Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth also dealt with a gun tragedy. Her stepson Derrick Booth, 22, was shot and killed in May 2014.
Gordon-Booth said the experience did not change her public policy position on guns. She has always supported common-sense gun regulations.
“I have never been a gun zealot. I am not working to outlaw guns,” she said. “People who don’t pose a danger to themselves or others can own weapons.”
She said more must be done to control illegal guns that pour into Illinois across state lines.
“Yes, we need to crack down on the shooter, but we also need to deal with the sale of illegal guns,” she said.