SPRINGFIELD (AP) – Mary Kay Mace never thought she’d serve as a face for gun control efforts.
But 5 years after her only daughter’s death in a Northern Illinois University campus shooting, Mace told a crowd at an Organizing for Action rally outside the Old State Capitol that 2009 news coverage of a government response to salmonella deaths helped turn her grief into action.
“When nine deaths from salmonella are thought to be linked to peanut butter, the government immediately steps in to take action,” she said. “But when it comes to tens of thousands of gun deaths each year, the government does absolutely nothing.”
Mace called the Brady Campaign to get involved with gun control efforts, and began researching how NIU’s shooter Steven Kazmierczak, who had a history of mental illness, could purchase his firearm legally.
Wednesday, she called on Congress to strengthen federal gun control laws to provide more uniformity across the country.
“In the case of the NIU tragedy, I believe that had a gunman been unable to purchase his firearms through legal means, he may not have had the wherewithal to buy them illegally,” she said.
OFA, the nonprofit that stemmed from President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, isn’t the only group working for gun control Mace is helping.
Mace is also lobbying on behalf the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s group, Mayor’s for Illegal Guns, It Can Happen Here, and Moms Demand Action.
Mace described herself as in a “morass of devastation” after the death of her 19-year-old daughter, Ryanne, in the Valentine’s Day massacre at the DeKalb campus’ lecture hall. Ryanne, a psychology major, was one of five students to die of gunshot wounds. Another 21 were injured.
But a year later, at home in suburban Carpentersville in March of 2009, Mace heard something that would make her snap up and pay attention— news coverage of the shooting at a Binghamton, New York, community center that killed 13. A spokesman for the Brady Campaign was making the comparison of government response to the shootings versus during a recent salmonella outbreak.
Mace, who began conducting research on “how in the world” NIU’s shooter could have obtained guns legally in Illinois. She said she was heartbroken to find that an Illinois law — which went into effect three months after the NIU shooting — would have required Kazmierczak’s mental health records to be included in a state database that could have prevented his purchase of guns.
Mace praised an Illinois law signed earlier this week by Gov. Pat Quinn that closes a background check loophole for the sale or transfer of a firearm from a private party. It also requires firearm thefts or losses to be reported within 72 hours.
She praised U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk’s support of federal legislation that would expand background checks to gun shows and Internet sales. The legislation, despite intense lobbying from families of shooting victims, failed to pass out of the Senate — a move Mace calls “shameful.”
The Illinois Rifle Association President Richard Pearson says the organization is opposed to the federal legislation expanding background checks as well as the state law.
“One reason you’re not seeing movement, is it’s not that simple,” he said of federal legislation. “There’s never a clean bill,” he said.
Her continued work, Mace said, has helped ease her own grief.
“When this happens to you, you kind of feel like you’re isolated,” Mace said. “It’s comforting to you you’re not alone.”
Follow Kerry Lester on Twitter at http://twitter.com/kerrylester