Illinois prosecutor rounds up county support for gun education and safety lock program

CHICAGO — Support for a gun education and safety lock program has the Lake County Prosecutor’s Office looking for help from the county council in accepting donations to launch the effort.

Bernie Johnsen, supervising deputy prosecutor, said since Indiana changed its gun laws in 2023 enabling easy access to firearms for almost anybody, there has been a substantial number of accidental shootings of children.

“The statute has changed and almost anybody can have a gun,” Johnsen said. Many gun owners have no training and do not fully understand how their weapons work. “Some of the people don’t understand guns will fire with the magazine out and a bullet in the chamber. They don’t understand the operation factor of handguns.”

Johnsen said for the first time, a prosecutor’s office is going to establish a gun safety program. The program will involve classroom and range training and has the support of several local businesses. Both Hard Rock Northern Indiana and NIPSCO have pledged their support for the program.

In a release Prosecutor Bernie Carter’s office said it is joining forces with Indiana State Police; Andrew Holmes, community activist and found of Lock It Down Foundation; Lisette Guillen with Case Files Chicago; Prosecutor Carter’s Clergy Council; and representatives from Hard Rock Northern Indiana and NiSource to offer the program.

“It has become evident that education on gun safety and the distribution of free gun safety locks to the community is of the utmost importance,” Carter said.

“The distribution of gun safety locks will include working with our Lake County Prosecutor’s Clergy Council to distribute safety locks at church services and events,” Carter said.

He said members of the clergy are community leaders who play a critical role in the lives of the people they serve.

“It is for that reason that we feel strongly that by distributing our gun safety locks through our churches, we can successfully reach our community,” Carter said. The gun safety locks also will be distributed at resource fairs and schools through opportunities at parent teacher conferences, orientations and school social events.

Johnsen at the Tuesday council meeting said the office currently has $7,500 in commitments and needs a place for the money to go once it is received. Along with funding the gun safety training, raised funds will go to support free gun safety lock distribution. The safety locks will be distributed through the local clergy.

“We don’t have the money in our budget to do something like that,” Johnsen said. The donations will allow the office to pay for ammunition, training materials and time at the shooting range.

“It’s a very valuable program that’s needed now with the gun laws,” Johnsen said. In his 11 years as a prosecutor, he said he has never seen so many children shot by guns owned by caregivers.

Council President Christine Cid, D-East Chicago, said the council would create the ordinance for its February meeting.

“I think this is a very valuable program,” Cid said.

Councilman Ted Bilski, D-Hobart, said the state should be on the hook to help fund such a program because it was the changes legislators made to statute that created the problem.

Bilski said the county should send a resolution to the state that shows this is what the county structured and how the county is handling this, and what the impact of the changed law has on Lake County.

“You changed the laws, now help fund it,” Bilski said.