Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Senate committee advances bills to control high-powered firearms

By Jamey Dunn

An Illinois Senate committee approved two gun control measures today, after recent tragedies brought the debate over firearms to the forefront of national attention.

House Bill 1263 would ban several types of assault weapons, including semi-automatic firearms and high-caliber rifles. House Bill 815 would outlaw ammunition magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds. Gov. Pat Quinn has been calling for the passage of such bans since last summer, after a shooter killed a dozen people and injured more than 50 others in a Colorado movie theater. But the nationwide focus on the recent mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut—which took the lives of 20 students and six staff members—seems to have given the measures some momentum.

“These military-style weapons have no use in our street and cities across Illinois. ...  Assault weapons have been used in three mass killings in our country in 2012,” said Colleen Daley, executive director of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence. “The killings need to stop, and passing a ban on the sale of these weapons is a great first step in stopping the senseless violence.” Under the legislation, those who owned the guns before the law goes into effect would be able to keep them, but they would have to register the weapons with the Illinois State Police.

Opponents say the ban is a knee-jerk reaction to the tragedy. Jay Keller, executive director of the Illinois Firearms Manufacturers Association, called the Sandy Hook shooting “an incomprehensible, haunting horror.” But he said that banning guns is not the answer, and lawmakers should instead take a comprehensive look at the issue by evaluating the state’s mental health system and considering the value of violent imagery in entertainment such as video games. “We all want answers, preferably simple ones. Unfortunately there are none. This issue is a complex issue, and banning certain firearms will not solve it.” Keller said the bans would eliminate jobs by driving weapons manufacturers out of the state. “So I can stay here and pay you all [taxes], but I can’t do business here. The manufacturers will not stay here.”

Representatives from the National Rifle Association argued that the two bills step on the Second Amendment rights of gun owners and fly in the face of recent court rulings guaranteeing them access to guns, as well as the ability to carry weapons in public. Todd Vandermyde, the National Rifle Association's chief Illinois lobbyist, said the measure is much broader than the federal assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004. “I have never seen a piece of legislation that tramples on so many court decisions,” he said.

But Park Ridge Democratic Sen. Dan Kotowski, who sponsors the high-capacity magazine ban, said the legislation is not meant to take away guns, just to make them less lethal in the hands of potential killers. “We are addressing the fact that there are more people who can be shot in a period of time, and I call that lethal,” he said. “If you are a law-abiding gun owner, I don’t know what you have to fear here.”

The bills could come up for floor votes as early as tomorrow.

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