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Illinois governor aims to get assault weapon ban proposal ‘done in the first half of the year’

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By Dan Petrella – Chicago Tribune

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who made banning the sale of assault weapons a key component of his successful reelection campaign this fall, for the first time voiced support for the recently unveiled proposal by Illinois House Democrats that includes outlawing the sale of certain assault-style guns, barring most people under 21 from getting gun permits and banning large-capacity magazines.

Pritzker, in his first public comments on the measure since it was filed last week, said he wants the legislation to be passed by the state House and Senate and placed on his desk to be signed into law before the Fourth of July 2023.

The measure, sponsored by state Rep. Bob Morgan of Deerfield, was in response to the mass shooting in Highland Park at the suburb’s Fourth of July parade, where a gunman killed seven people and injured dozens more. Morgan marched in the annual parade when authorities say gunfire rained down from an assault-style rifle equipped with high-capacity magazines.

The alleged shooter, despite a history of making threatening statements, legally purchased the weapon after his father gave consent for him to get a state firearm owner’s identification card at the age of 19. Under the proposed legislation, those under 21 wouldn’t be able to acquire a FOID card unless they are active-duty military or National Guard members.

The measure also would ban the sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines and make changes intended to strengthen the state’s red-flag law by extending the period someone can be barred from possessing a gun from six months to a year and by giving local prosecutors a greater role in the process. The details of the Highland Park shooting raised questions about whether the law could have been used to keep the alleged shooter from purchasing the weapon used in the attack.

“I favor the legislation that he’s put forward,” Pritzker said of Morgan’s bill, while the governor added the caveat that “the legislative process can be a grinding one that requires a lengthier look at each piece” of a proposal.

Lawmakers could take up the plan as early as next month during the lame-duck session, when legislators return to Springfield for their final session days before the newly elected General Assembly is seated Jan. 11.

“Whether it happens during the lame-duck session, which I know is the expectation, or it happens during regular session … it’s important that we do it as fast as possible, there’s no doubt,” Pritzker said at an unrelated event in Chicago. “But I just want to be clear that our aim is to get it done in the first half of the year.”

If approved, the proposal is certain to face legal opposition from gun rights advocates, and the political calculations surrounding its passage are complicated, particularly given that gun control measures historically have broken down on regional as well as partisan lines.

Democrats currently hold supermajorities of 73-45 in the House and 41-18 in the state Senate, and a vote during the lame-duck session could give some departing lawmakers latitude to take a tough vote on a contentious issue without fear of a backlash at the ballot box. The scheduled four-day session also would allow Democrats to push the measure through quickly.

Waiting until the new crop of lawmakers is sworn in could be a double-edged sword for Democrats.

House Democrats will see their supermajority swell to a 78-40 advantage, while the Senate Democrats will retain a supermajority despite losing two seats.

At the same time, allowing the issue to roll over in to the new session would provide an opening for opponents to mobilize against the proposal and for other issues to take precedence.

“Gun reform is literally a life-and-death issue,” Morgan told the Chicago Tribune on Wednesday. “And I view this legislation with the urgency that not just my community demands in the wake of the Highland Park mass shooting, but also the fact that there are communities that are experiencing gun violence every day. So my hope and my expectation and my efforts will all be centered around passing this legislation before the end of lame duck.”

Morgan, who is scheduled to present the proposal during a House committee hearing Monday, said he expects “significant input” from his Democratic colleagues in the Senate and Republicans in both the House and Senate.

There have been tensions between Democrats in the two chambers over gun control measures in the recent past, with the Senate sending the House a bill last year that removed a provision that would have required fingerprinting for people applying for a firearm owner’s identification card. The Senate version ultimately passed the House and was signed by Pritzker.

Pritzker said the governor’s administration and some Senate Democrats have already been involved in discussions about Morgan’s proposal, and Morgan said negotiations between the House and Senate are ongoing. Pritzker added that Senate President Don Harmon of Oak Park “has been a champion, truly a champion of gun safety laws.”

“Senate President Harmon looks forward to working with Gov. Pritzker to continue to build upon their successful efforts to protect Illinoisans from gun violence, end this horrific string of mass shootings, and set a national example of how it can be done,” Harmon’s spokesman, John Patterson, said in a statement. Patterson added that Harmon’s office has not been involved in detailed negotiations on the legislation but expects to thoroughly review it with members of the Senate Democratic caucus.

As for the Republicans, Morgan said he doesn’t “know if the final package will be supported in a bipartisan way.”

“But it’s certainly my hope,” he said.

Pritzker likewise expressed hope that some GOP lawmakers would get behind an assault weapon ban.

“I think there are Republicans in the suburbs particularly who should vote for this and whose constituents want this,” Pritzker said.

Among the handful of Republicans who have supported past proposals to restrict the sale of assault-style weapons is state Rep. Jim Durkin of Western Springs, who is stepping down as the GOP leader in the House. Durkin voted for measures in 2018 that would have instituted a three-day waiting period for buying an assault-style weapon and banned their sale to people younger than 21. Neither measure became law.

Durkin, a former prosecutor, noted his record on the issue when calling for more moderation from his party after its disappointing showing in the Nov. 8 election. Regarding Morgan’s proposal, Durkin said in a statement Wednesday: “I’m keeping an open mind, but will wait until the final product is made available before I reach a conclusion.”

Another Republican who favored both those 2018 measures was state Sen. John Curran of Downers Grove, who was recently chosen to lead the Senate GOP in the upcoming term. Curran did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment.

Gun rights advocates, meanwhile, are already threatening to sue the state on Second Amendment grounds if the measure becomes law, with the Illinois State Rifle Association saying in a “call to action” on its website that the organization “will not be entering into any negotiations on this piece of legislation.” Gun rights groups have challenged a similar ban in Naperville.

“Are you angry?” the statement from the Illinois State Rifle Association says. “Good, so are we. As law-abiding citizens the time is now to take a stand for our constitutionally protected rights. It is time to use our First Amendment rights to protect our Second Amendment rights.”

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Source: American Military News

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