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Bloomington revisits gun violence commission idea

Mollie Ward at city council seat
Emily Bollinger
Bloomington City Council member Mollie Ward said a new commission studying gun violence will be more focused on addressing specific solutions than existing groups working on other issues.

Bloomington City Council members say they are open to studying gun violence in the city, but there are divisions about how to find solutions.

City council member Mollie Ward, who represents west Bloomington, proposed the gun violence commission over a year ago. There was some discussion then, but the plan ultimately went nowhere. Ward has brought it back.

Ward said various community stakeholders need to share data to come up with a comprehensive strategy. Ward said it's about much more than just tracking crime data — for example, suicides are not included in crime data.

“These data are scattered through various websites, through various groups throughout the community. They exist, this is correct, but these data are scattered in such a way that the can usefully help us to understand what the patterns are," Ward said during Monday's city council non-voting meeting.

Data compiled by WGLT from Bloomington and Normal police showed a sharp increase in gunfire incidents in 2022.

Ward also said the commission is not part of some scheme to take away anyone's firearms. “Isn’t this just a way of trying to take our guns away? No, no, no. It’s about drawing on the wisdom of our community,” Ward said.

Nick Becker speaking at Bloomington City Council
Emily Bollinger
Bloomington city council member Nick Becker said the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council would be better suited to study gun violence than a new commission.

Several council members said a new commission to study gun violence wasn’t necessary. Nick Becker, who represents areas just east of Veterans Parkway, suggested McLean County's Criminal Justice Coordinating Council already has many of the stakeholders in place and could take lead.

“I think that using that vehicle somehow probably gets us to the result that alderperson Ward is pushing — and I think we all want — faster,” Becker said.

Donna Boelen, who represents southwest Bloomington, said any commission that studies gun violence should go beyond Bloomington's borders. She said the Town of Normal and McLean County should play a role, too. She said the county's behavioral health coordinating council also has access to some of the data. She said a new commission would be a duplication of efforts.

“I see this Bloomington gun violence commission initiative as creating a silo. We don’t need to create another silo,” Boelen said.

Ward responded that existing groups already have their areas of study, and that taking on a new project could become a distraction and recommendations could become watered down. “I would simply say if all this is already out there and exists, how come we haven’t done anything yet?” Ward asked.

In an unofficial vote, five council members said they want more discussion on the issue. Four council members (Becker, Boelen, Sheila Montney, Kent Lee) said no. That brings the item back to the city council for a formal vote next week.

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Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.
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