Although gun-control legislation has stalled in Congress, "common-sense gun reform" remains one of U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly's top priorities, the Democratic congresswoman said at a Monday night event in East Hazel Crest to review her first year in the House.
Kelly, a former state representative, was elected last April to fill the 2nd congressional district seat left vacant by disgraced former congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. after he resigned in 2012. The district covers Chicago’s far Southeast Side and a large swath of the southern suburbs.
While in Congress, Kelly introduced gun-control legislation meant to place stricter safety standards on guns and keep "violent, dangerous people" from being able to purchase firearms. But supporters of gun curbs simply cannot get gun-control legislation to the House floor for a vote, Kelly said.
"There is gun legislation dealing with background checks, and there is about 180 to 190 bipartisan signatures, Democrats and Republicans," the congresswoman said. "But we cannot get it called to the floor, so what I tell people when people come and see me about the gun issue [is], 'I'm your choir.' So we need to call other people across the United States and call Speaker [John] Boehner [to] at least [bring] the bill to committee and to the floor and let it be voted up or down."
Though legislation seeking to expand gun sale background checks has failed to move forward in Congress, President Barack Obama did issue 23 executive orders last year focused on gun violence reduction. One of the orders, for example, requires "federal agencies to make relevant data available to the federal background check system."
Kelly made a point to stress that the gridlock in Congress will not stop her from renewing the push for stronger gun-control laws.
"When we have people dying and over 30 people shot [in Chicago in one weekend] that brings more attention to it, even though that's not how I want the attention to come," Kelly said. "But we message on it. I don't let it die. I'm committed to continuing to bring the issue up. Sometimes, I know from being a state rep, [that] good legislation takes a while to pass, but I believe there is a growing momentum."
Reducing gun violence, Kelly said, starts with providing communities with more "economic opportunities, good schools and a solid infrastructure."
"Simply put: Nothing stops a bullet like a job," the congresswoman said.
Kelly noted that she has helped put forward legislation meant to increase job opportunities, expand economic development and strengthen the economy. In her district, the congresswoman has held job fairs as well as small business workshops. She also introduced proposals seeking to provide tax credits to employers that hire the long-term unemployed, veterans and youth. None of those bills, however, have been brought for a full House vote, Kelly said.
When asked why it is so difficult to garner the bipartisan support needed to move certain legislation forward in the GOP-led House, Kelly noted that, "It's not that we're there fighting or anything like that."
"There were definitely people on the Dem side, but definitely people on the Republican side, that did not want the [federal government] shutdown. There are definitely people that want immigration reform [and] that want unemployment insurance to pass," she said. "It's just when it actually comes to voting 'yes' or 'no,' then I believe there is a certain group of people that really don't vote like how they feel in their heart."
As budget talks continue in Congress, Kelly said she specifically wants to see more investments made in education in an effort to help stymie gun violence and other problems plaguing communities across the country and in the 2nd congressional district, such as high unemployment.
"To me that's the key to so many things, and so many other countries are investing in education," she said. "You won't see the gun violence that we see if we invested more in our schools. That would benefit everybody with our future generations, and they would have skills ... We need to invest in getting young people skills, or people that lost their jobs, so they can be retooled or repurposed so they can get jobs."
When asked how she plans to get that message through to Republican House members who approved the GOP's controversial 2015 fiscal year budget earlier this month, Kelly said all she can do is continue to discuss the issues with her fellow congressmen.
"I feel that people are really afraid to show how they really feel about bills," the congresswoman said. "(Republicans) have 17 more people than us [in the House], so if we don't get more people, it's going to be another couple years" before certain legislation is able to advance.
"I’ve twice met with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx and (Federal Aviation Administration) officials to express my strong support for the airport and to encourage them to expedite final approval of the project," Kelly said. "At one of those meetings, I brought in state representatives and senators from South Cook, Will and Kankakee counties to show the broad based support for the airport. With support at the federal, state and local level, I am very optimistic about the future of the airport."
Kelly's Deputy Chief of Staff Audra Wilson told Progress Illinois that groundbreaking for the airport could start in 2017, while construction on the Illiana tollway, which will connect I-55 in Illinois to I-65 in Indiana, is currently on track to begin sometime next year.
In a separate effort to help boost the local economy, Kelly introduced a bill earlier this year to designate the historic Pullman neighborhood on Chicago's South Side as a national park. U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) and Mark Kirk (R-Illinois) are backing the proposed legislation in the Senate.
"A national park at Pullman will bring tourism and development to the far South Side, which would in turn create new jobs and economic opportunity for the area," the congresswoman said.