illinois Digital News

Residents rally for new gun laws


Highland Park resident Nicole Polarek helped her children, 9-year-old Drew and 7-year-old Will, affix orange pieces of fabric to the #Enough traveling gun violence community project Saturday afternoon.

The political activism followed the family’s terrifying experience five days earlier, when they took shelter inside their favorite breakfast spot, Walker Bros. Original Pancake House on Central Avenue, as shots rang out at the community’s Independence Day Parade.

“I think we stayed out for the whole first round and then there was a pause, thank goodness,” she said. “And we ran back into Walker Bros. just kind of halfway through the second round,” Polarek said. “It was a lot.”

Looking back, though, she is focusing on the friends the family made that day.

“We’re learning that there’s a lot more good people in the world, a lot of helpers in this world, more than any bad,” Polarek said. “And that’s what we have been talking about today.”

Polarek was among the crowd that gathered in Sunset Woods Park in Highland Park Saturday to call for new gun laws during the Highland Park Community Rally in response to the July 4 shooting that killed seven and left dozens injured.

Rally event sponsors included Moms Demand Action, March For Our Lives, Gun Violence Prevention PAC, Illinois Tenth Congressional District Democrats and Planned Parenthood of Illinois.

Rachel Jacoby of Highland Park, rally co-organizer and a 2014 Vernon Hills High School graduate, said one purpose was, “to make space for the community to come together and grieve and heal following the tragedy from July Fourth.

But speakers and signs carried by attendees made sure the message was clear.

“What we’re also trying to do is send a message that enough is enough and it’s time for change,” Jacoby said. “We want to rally the community to demand a future free from gun violence.”

Rally co-organizer Caryn Fliegler of Northbrook, a 1993 Highland Park High School graduate, is co-leader of the Illinois chapter of Moms Demand Action.

“I’ve been involved in working on gun violence prevention for about seven years and I always knew that when people say, ‘I never thought this could happen here,’ I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked to who say that,” Fliegler said.

“This is my hometown,” said Fliegler. “We need to be part of a movement to end this, because it (mass shootings) keeps happening in places where people say, ‘I never thought this could happen here.’

“Everybody I know who’s a survivor of gun violence said I never thought it would happen to me,” Fliegler said. “We have to change that.”

The rally featured about an hour of speeches and a musical performance.

Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart, a Democrat, spoke to the crowd an called for a ban on assault weapons. He said guns are too accessible.

“We must think about those seven individuals and their families’ loss of freedom,” Rinehart said. “Their freedom matters.”

U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider (D-10th) said the Fourth of July parade is normally a tradition that brings together generations of families, “shoulder to shoulder, united as one.”

But in Highland Park on July 4, “In an instant, everything changed,” Schneider said. “An evil monster acquired a weapon of war and destroyed lives, shattered families and devastated our community.

“Enough is enough. We must ban assault weapons,” Schneider said.

Karie Angell Luc is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press.

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