Illinois Democrats set up House floor showdown on gun curbs
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Illinois House Democrats unleashed a bevy of proposed restrictions on firearms Tuesday, an urgent response to the Florida high school shooting as well as the fatal shooting of a Chicago police officer a day earlier.
The Judiciary-Criminal Committee approved five gun-control measures including barring anyone younger than 21 from buying an assault-style weapon, prohibiting the purchase of large-capacity ammunition feeders and outlawing civilian use of body armor.
Each was approved on 8-5 partisan roll calls, setting up swift floor action Wednesday with a primary election just weeks away.
The key measures are tailored to address the recent shootings. Authorities say a 19-year-old former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, used an AR-15 to shoot and kill 17 people on Feb. 14. A day earlier in Chicago, Police Cmdr. Paul Bauer was fatally shot near a government building in the city's downtown, and police say the suspect was armed with a semi-automatic handgun that had a 30-round magazine.
"Common-sense legislation to protect the citizens - not just of Chicago but across this country - makes sense," Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson told reporters at the Capitol. "We have an obligation to the citizens that we serve to help keep them safe. It's time we stop talking about this stuff and actually do something about it."
The response is swift but not isolated. At least 10 other states, including Florida, Vermont, Texas, Ohio and Washington, are considering legislative measures or taking other action. Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo signed an executive order Monday to restrict gun possession by those who pose a danger to themselves or others.
But Illinois Democrats are in a hurry to take tough action with a primary election that will decide November matchups for hundreds of legislative seats and the governor's office less than a month away.
Other plans include a ban on bump stocks, the devices that turn rifles into automatic-style weapons and were used in the Las Vegas mass shooting in October. An Illinois prohibition of the same type failed in the General Assembly last fall.
Representatives of the Illinois State Rifle Association and the Federal Firearms Licensees of Illinois opposed the measures, calling them incomplete and poorly drafted. They said they were a constitutional overreach in some cases.
"This bill is a confiscation bill," Todd Vandermyde, a lobbyist for the firearms dealers, said in describing the ban on assault-style weapons. "There are serious 4th Amendment due-process concerns for the state to be confiscating your material possessions."
Vandermyde said when the federal government banned assault-style guns and high-capacity magazines in 1994, existing magazines were not affected. Under the Illinois proposal, he contended as many as 25 million magazines of 10 rounds or more would have to be turned over by the 2.2 million Illinois gun-card holders.
Rep. Barbara Wheeler, a Crystal Lake Republican, suggested that a proposed hotline that would take anonymous calls about people who might pose a danger to themselves or others could be abused by ex-spouses, spurned lovers, or even political opponents.
"As a member of free America, this is one of the scariest bills I've ever seen," Wheeler said.
The sponsor of high-capacity magazine prohibition, Rep. Daniel Burke, acknowledged his legislation has some shortcomings, but he refused to hold it from a floor vote to address them - a courtesy sponsors often promise to get committee approval.
"We are very anxious to send a message not only to the Chicago Police Department and those who have suffered as a result of gun violence in our society, but to anyone who would look at Illinois," the Chicago Democrat said. "They'd say, 'Yes, they are finally taking some action, they're finally moving in the right direction, they've finally listened to what has happened in our state and in our world.'"