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Local Sikh leaders, Jackson call for ban on assault weapons

Dr. Balwant Singh watches Rev. Jesse Jacksspeak about gun violence during press conference Rainbow PUSH 930 E. 50th St. Saturday

Dr. Balwant Singh watches Rev. Jesse Jackson speak about gun violence during a press conference at Rainbow PUSH, 930 E. 50th St., Saturday, August 18, 2012, in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: September 20, 2012 10:21AM

Local Sikh leaders horrified by the recent killings at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin joined the Rev. Jesse Jackson on Saturday to call for a ban on assault weapons.

Wade Michael Page, an Army veteran described as a white supremacist, killed six and wounded four, including a police officer, on Aug. 5 at the temple in Oak Creek, Wis.

Page used a 9mm semi-automatic handgun and not an assault weapon. Still, Chicago-area Sikhs have agreed to Jackson’s request to march in support of a return to a ban on assault weapons.

“We need to stop this violence,” said Balwant Singh, a member of the Sikh Religious Society in Palatine. “One way to do this is to ban the assault weapons that are easy to be accessed.”

President Clinton approved a federal ban on assault weapons in 1994, but it expired in 2004 under President George W. Bush. The ban included semiautomatic firearms such as the Colt AR-15, TEC-9, AK-47 and Uzi.

President Obama hasn’t advocated a return of an assault weapons ban, but Gov. Quinn recently proposed a statewide ban.

Jackson, in a news conference at Rainbow/PUSH Coalition headquarters on the South Side, also condemned the white supremacist ideology held by the Wisconsin shooter and those in other recent mass shootings.

“These killings keep coming,” he said. “We seem to be anesthetized, in a trance. ... The rise of a multicultural America is a threat to the supremacists. They are becoming more capable of acting on their anger and killing.”

Sukhdev Kaur Ghuman, president of the Sikh Religious Society, said she knows of 700 incidents of violence on Sikhs across America.

In the Chicago area, there have been several recent alleged hate crimes directed at suburban Islamic institutions.

David Conrad of Morton Grove appeared in court Aug. 13 after he allegedly fired an air rifle at the local Muslim Education Center. And police in Lombard are investigating an Aug. 12 attack. A crude explosive device made of household chemicals was thrown at an Islamic school during Ramadan prayers, police said.

Jackson and the Sikh leaders said attackers seem to have confused Sikhs with Muslims following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks led by Osama bin Laden and other radical Muslim terrorists.

But Sikhs aren’t alone as victims of hate: vandals targeted Muslim mosques across the country after the Wisconsin killings.

Ghuman said the Sikh religion needs to receive more attention in American classrooms. The Sikh and Muslim religions are distinct, she noted.

Sikhs don’t follow the Muslim’s Quran, but instead read the Guru Granth Sahib as their most sacred text. They also don’t view Mohammed as their prophet, as Muslims do.

“We are a peace-loving people,” said Mahanbir Singh Dhillon, also of the Sikh Religious Society. “The guy in Wisconsin should have read a few things about Sikhs before he barged in with a gun.”

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