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Mother of murdered NIU student opposes concealed weapons

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

One of the arguments in favor of allowing Illinois residents to legally carry concealed weapons — as is allowed in all but one other state these days —is that it could prevent incidents like the one in which five NIU students were gunned down on campus three years ago.

Just try telling that to Mary Kay Mace, mother of Ryanne Mace, a 19-year-old psychology major who lost her life that day when Stephen Kazmierczak opened fire from the front of a lecture hall.

“I think that’s b.s.,” Mace said, hesitating only over her choice of epithets.

“I get offended when people say that. It’s like blaming the victim. If only she had a gun . . . or if she had outrun the bullets.”

“To me, it’s crazy to have everybody carrying concealed,” Mace said.

I’ve learned over the years in this job that there are two kinds of people in this world: those like Mace who find it totally illogical to believe that our world would be safer with more people carrying guns and those who find it totally illogical to think otherwise.

My own views, stated here previously, put me in Mace’s corner, although increasingly I sense that our side has been outmanned or outgunned, so to speak, in the public policy arena.

If you don’t know, there’s a big push being made for Illinois to finally enact its own concealed carry law this year, and with the General Assembly having tilted slightly to the right in the last election, the thinking is that it just might get done, if only to help provide political cover to Downstate Democrats for the Legislature allowing civil unions for gay couples.

That, in turn, has prompted a big push from gun control advocates to try to hold the line here, which is why Mace will be appearing in Chicago today at an event led by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Participants plan to offer documented examples of killers around the country who had been legally approved for concealed weapon permits, which to be clear, does not apply to the NIU shootings.

I’m sure advocates will counter with anecdotal evidence of their own of conceal permit-holding heroes, and yes, we all know by now of the study that contends states with concealed carry laws have seen less crime as a result, but you’ll have to pardon me for believing that it’s probably a little more complicated than that.

Today, though, I’m not asking you to agree with me, but to at least hear what Mace has to say on the subject. I think she’s earned that right.

Mace, 47, considers herself middle of the road on gun rights, a subject she had never really considered while raising her family in Carpentersville until that fateful Valentine’s Day 2008.

She said she understands the desire of people to own guns for utilitarian purposes on farms and for hunting.

“I understand that there’s evil out there in the world. Nobody understands better than I do,” she said. “I understand wanting a gun for personal protection. I just don’t think that it works.”

Mace and I were talking by telephone. Since the shooting, she and her husband, Eric, have moved to Downstate Petersburg, outside Springfield, for a “change of scenery.” Residents there have more conservative views on gun ownership and tell her she is brave for speaking her mind about hers.

“I’m not trying to take the guns away from you or anybody else that are mentally competent and law abiding,” she tells them.

Mace’s particular area of interest is making sure that Illinois and other states do a better job of preventing individuals with a history of mental illness from legally buying guns, which she thinks could have stopped Kazmierczak.

Despite laws enacted to that effect, thousands of mental health reports on persons who are potentially dangerous have not been entered into the national database used in conducting background checks of firearms owners, she said.

“That scares me,” Mace said. “Every time I hear of another shooting, I get sick to my stomach and lose sleep.”

Mace said it particularly makes no sense for Illinois to approve carrying concealed weapons before the background check system has been updated to include the mental health records.

“I wouldn’t want to live in a place where you don’t know who around you is carrying a gun or not,” she said, then conceded that perhaps it’s naïve to think that she knows now.

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