SPRINGFIELD — A week after becoming the Republican Party nominee for governor, state Sen. Darren Bailey sought Thursday to pivot from his bungled response to the mass shooting in Highland Park by declaring more gun control laws weren’t necessary, saying state funds needed to be better directed for mental health services and trying to cast blame for violence throughout Illinois on his opponent in the fall, Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
But Bailey’s efforts to move past the controversy ran into problems of their own as the Downstate Republican conflated state gun control laws, misidentified a neighborhood in Chicago where violence occurred over the weekend and even misquoted a Bible verse.
Bailey for at least the second time apologized for comments he made hours after a gunman opened fire at the Highland Park Fourth of July parade, killing seven and wounding dozens more. Bailey in a Facebook post Monday prayed for victims, their families and law enforcement before saying, “Let’s pray for justice to prevail, and then let’s move on and let’s celebrate — celebrate the independence of this nation.”
On Thursday, Bailey said he was sorry if those comments caused more pain.
“Look, you guys know me. I’m a father. I’m a grandfather. And (Bailey’s wife) Cindy and I are heartbroken for these families,” Bailey told reporters outside the Illinois Capitol in Springfield. “The thought that my initial response could have caused more pain is certainly something that will keep me up at night. And I’m sorry.”
He also referenced a quote from the Bible: “Clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience,” before adding, “I need to be better at that and I ask for your forgiveness.”
A Christian who has often interspersed his political speeches with Bible verses and prayers, Bailey said the quote came from “Psalm 112,” which is in the Old Testament, but it actually is from the New Testament’s “Colossians 3:12.”
As Bailey discussed the Highland Park tragedy, which has spurred discussions across the nation about the need for increased gun control measures, Bailey said new laws aren’t necessary. Instead, Bailey said, laws on the books weren’t enforced appropriately and the blame for that falls on Pritzker and his Democratic administration.
But in making his case, Bailey at times conflated Illinois’ red-flag law, which allows police or family members to petition the courts if they are concerned someone is unfit to have guns, and “clear and present danger” stipulations that are designed to prevent individuals in certain situations from obtaining or keeping a firearm owner’s identification card.
The alleged gunman, Robert Crimo III, legally obtained several firearms — including the rifle he allegedly used in the Highland Park shooting — even though months before he obtained a FOID card Highland Park police warned he could pose a “clear and present danger.” Illinois State Police said that warning did not meet standards to declare him an imminent threat.
“Starting at the top with Gov. Pritzker, ignored it. It wasn’t used,” Bailey said, referring to the Firearms Restraining Order Act, which is the formal name for the red-flag law. “And if it would’ve been used it could’ve prevented this.”
Bailey’s comments prompted a rebuke from the governor’s reelection campaign. In a statement, Pritzker’s campaign said the state senator was “lying about his own history” in the General Assembly, where he’s repeatedly voted against any restrictions put in place on gun owners by the Democrat-led legislature.
Bailey also has proposed legislation to eliminate the FOID card because, he says, it is duplicative since background checks are required for both FOID applications and gun purchases.
“The FOID card system is simply to pilfer money from people’s pockets. That’s all it does,” Bailey said Thursday. “We have the federal firearm background check. We have age limits. We have waiting periods.”
Instead of gun control measures, Bailey said efforts should be made to readjust state funding and direct it toward mental health services. He reiterated a call for a special legislative session to enhance mental health services to prevent violence and form a task force of doctors, first responders, clergy and others to propose solutions to violence problems.
He said access to mental health care continues to burden Illinois.
“Among the issues that I’ve heard, long wait times. Burdensome paperwork. Shortage of providers at all levels, especially psychiatrists. And not enough funding,” Bailey said.
Still, in his three years in the General Assembly, including two as a state representative, he’s opposed Pritzker’s budgets that have included millions of dollars for mental health services. Asked about that on Thursday, Bailey said that instead of increasing spending “we simply must reprioritize the spending.”
“We’ve been passing new laws. We’ve been developing new agencies. And under Gov. Pritzker’s watch, it simply isn’t working. And it’s time to do something real,” he said.
Bailey also said Pritzker’s leadership has resulted in escalated violence and again tried to link the mass shooting in north suburban Highland Park to violence in Chicago, which he repeatedly referred to as a “hellhole” in GOP debates earlier this year.
“This unspeakable tragedy (in Highland Park) happened in an affluent, mostly white neighborhood, so it’s getting national news. But we must not forget that more than 60 people have been shot in and around Chicago already in July,” Bailey said, casting blame on Pritzker. “The pain in Highland Park, West Garfield Park, Edgefield Park — and even in the Loop — this is all on your watch.”
There is no “Edgefield Park” neighborhood in Chicago. Following the news conference, a Bailey campaign spokesman said the mistake was due to a typo written in prepared remarks and that Bailey was referring to the Englewood neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side.