All her life, Karen Kostal has been opposed to handguns, but she never did much about it.
Then her friend's son - an innocent teen in the wrong place at the wrong time - was murdered by a gun-toting gang member. That's when Kostal decided to get involved in lobbying for stronger gun- control measures.
"As a parent, you see that happen and you think it could be my child. It could be someone else's child," said Kostal, a Winfield mother of two. "There's been enough heartache and tragic things that have happened with guns involved that didn't have to happen."
Kostal - along with her mother, sister, children and husband - plans to take her message to the Million Mom March in Chicago on Mother's Day. She hopes legislators see the show of support for tougher gun laws and enact regulations that will make the country safer.
The Million Moms say their requests for stricter laws are simply common sense. They will march in Washington, D.C., and other cities across the nation this Sunday to draw attention to their cause.
"If all of this can save one person's life, one kid's life, it's worth it," said Kostal, a school board member at Community High School in West Chicago and a sign language interpreter at Triton Community College in River Grove.
The issue really hit home for Kostal, 50, in 1996. She was friendly with an Evanston family, the Youngs, whom she knew through speed-skating. Her two children, now 17 and 15, were competitive skaters, as was Andrew Young.
Kostal spent many hours with Andrew's father, Steve Young, volunteering and attending events.
On June 10, a friend called Kostal with unthinkable news: 19- year-old Andrew Young had just been shot dead. Young and his twin brother had been stopped at a red light in the middle of the day while driving from Chicago to their Evanston neighborhood.
An 18-year-old man hopped off his bicycle, walked up to the car and fired a bullet from a 9mm semiautomatic pistol through the driver's side window without saying a word. The bullet pierced Young's heart.
Police said the shooting was part of a gang initiation.
"I was horrified," Kostal recalled. "It's the worst that can happen."
After the funeral, Steve Young became a gun-control activist. He now works for the Bell Campaign, a gun-control organization led by victims of gun trauma. Young also is the organizer of the Chicago Million Mom March.
Kostal wanted to help, and plans to pass out fliers and urge people to attend the march. Just showing up sends a signal to politicians, she said.
The Moms are asking for several key provisions: instituting a national "cooling off" period and extensive background checks, licensing handgun owners and registration of all handguns, installing safety locks for guns and limiting purchases to one handgun per month.
Opponents of stricter gun legislation - who are staging counter rallies on Mother's Day called Armed Informed Mothers' Marches - say the current restrictions are sufficient. Additional laws, they say, will only make it tougher for law-abiding citizens to defend themselves.
Inconvenience vs. safety
But Kostal thinks the gun-control proposals make sense.
A cooling off period would allow people in the midst of a violent argument to stop and think about the consequences. Though Illinois has a three-day waiting period, most states have none at all, according to Handgun Control.
"If someone's trying to purchase a gun legally, what harm does it do" to wait a few days, Kostal said.
Gun-control critics often point out that if someone is truly enraged and wants to harm another person, they wouldn't run off to the gun store. They'd just grab the first thing available.
Even then, however, a potential victim has more of a chance, Kostal said.
"With a kitchen knife or a baseball bat, you have a little bit of a defense," she said. …