Families of Gun Violence Victims Sue Governor of Illinois

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Families of Gun Violence Victims Sue Governor of Illinois

Three families of gun violence victims today filed a lawsuit in federal court against Governor Rauner, the State of Illinois, and the Illinois State Police for failing to protect their communities from the epidemic of gun violence sweeping through Chicago neighborhoods. 

Powell vs State of Illinois documents the impact that the exposure of gun violence has on individual children, physically, mentally, academically, and socially. This lawsuit seeks to require the State of Illinois and the Department of State Police to use existing regulatory authority to stop the spread of guns from valid holders of Firearm Owner Identification Cards (FOID cardholders) to illegal users, minors and gang members, especially in racially and economically isolated neighborhoods in the City that are awash in gun violence.

The suit argues that gun violence causes cognitive and emotional disabilities in children that must be accommodated under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It also raises claims of “disparate impact” race discrimination under the Illinois Civil Rights Act for the State’s failure to use existing regulatory authority to stop the spread of guns from valid holders of Firearm Owner Identification Cards (FOID cardholders) to illegal users, minors and gang members.

“The most tragic part of all is that these plaintiffs, whose brave families are willing to come forward to take a stand against gun violence, are just the tip of the iceberg,” said Dr. Patricia Rush, an Internal Medicine physician with The Center for Collaborative Study of Trauma, Health Equity, and Neurobiology. Dr. Rushs has worked with underserved populations on the West Side and South Side of Chicago for 40 years. “Every day, when we hear the grim statistics of how many people in Chicago have been shot or murdered, we know that the true number of victims is multiplied tenfold through the resulting emotional trauma. I urge Governor Rauner and all law enforcement and government officials to act now: adopt and enforce regulations to protect the children of Illinois and their families from gun violence.”

The class-action lawsuit was filed on behalf of Demetria Powell, Tanya Reece, and Tywanna Patrick, guardians for children living in Chicago’s most gun-ridden neighborhoods. These children all have been acutely affected by the violence in their communities.


Local villages and towns have done little, by way of ordinance, to limit the sales of gun dealers or prevent the theft or loss of guns, nor is there any meaningful enforcement of these ordinances. Only 53 of Illinois’ 1,299 municipalities have adopted any kind of gun dealer/trafficking ordinance, and most require nothing more than the documentation of sales, as required by state law.
Chicago has no licensed gun dealers, but according to the Chicago Police Department, 40.4 percent of the “crime guns” recovered on Chicago streets were purchased from federally-licensed gun dealers in Illinois. Seven of the stores selling the most guns used in Chicago shootings are located in Illinois, with the remainder located nearby in Indiana.

The gun shops listed in the lawsuit as contributing to violence are Chuck’s Gun Shop in Riverdale; Midwest Sporting Goods in Lyons; Shore Galleries in Lincolnwood; GAT Guns in East Dundee; Suburban Sporting Goods in Melrose Park; Pelcher’s Shooter Supply in Lansing; and Sporting Arms & Supply in Posen.


Since January 1, 2015, 2,231 persons have been killed in Chicago. Ninety percent died by gun shots. During the same period, 7,971 persons were shot. About 80% of the homicide and shooting victims in Chicago are African-American. At least 20% of these shootings involve teenagers or younger children. Two-thirds of all minors who have been shot suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, and thousands of African-American children in Chicago who have experienced gun violence but not been shot also have PTSD or trauma-related disabilities.

It is well-established among physicians, trauma specialists and educators, as well as in the scientific, peer-reviewed literature, that when a child, particularly a young child, is exposed to gun violence, there is a dramatic and lasting impairment of the child’s basic life activities. This includes deficits in the child’s ability to care for himself or herself, the child’s sleep, reading abilities, learning capacity, concentration, thinking and communication. As a result of these deficits, gun violence directly undermines the child’s academic performance and his or her educational opportunities.

The suit was filed in US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

Attorney Tom Geoghegan represents the plaintiffs and is a nationally renowned labor lawyer who contributes a significant portion of his career to pro bono and public interest law. He has represented several unions and union groups, and written six books on labor unions, law, politics, and his personal experiences. He has written for The New Republic magazine and contributed to several newspapers, and had commentaries on many radio and TV stations. In his books, articles, and commentaries, Tom has urged several reforms to increase America’s commitment to democracy.


Attorney Tom Johnson, also representing the plaintiffs, has practiced law for over 40 years at every state and federal court level. He has played a pivotal role in the development of affordable housing in Chicago and securing justice for coal miners, truck drivers, and others in the labor movement. He has spent considerable time seeking to reform Chicago’s voter registration and electoral system and, in doing so, has represented numerous local, state, and federal office holders, including President Barack Obama and the late Mayor Harold Washington.

Powell v State of Illinois is supported by the Clarence Darrow Society, a nonprofit, public interest organization providing critical legal and public policy opportunities for marginalized individuals and groups to register their voice effectively in our democracy.