Monday, May 20, 2013

Testimony from Newtown parents puts high-capacity magazine ban in General Assembly's spotlight

By Jamey Dunn 

Illinois Senate President John Cullerton said that a visit today from parents of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting could help push a ban on the sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines toward passage in the Senate.

“I just told them 'that but for their presence here, this is the type of bill that we probably would fall short on. And if we pass it, it will be because of them,’” Cullerton said after the parents testified in a committee hearing on Senate Bill 1002. The committee approved the bill on a bipartisan vote. Cullerton said he does not know when the measure will be called for a floor vote. He said he plans to count votes to see if there is enough support for it to pass. “This is going to be a close vote. I was very encouraged by the support of the two Republicans. That gives me some encouragement to think that maybe we can get a majority vote.”

The legislation bans the sale or transfer of magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds. If the bill becomes law, residents who currently own such magazines would be allowed to keep them, but retailers would be barred from selling more of them in the state. Owners would not be allowed to give away or sell their magazines, but they could transfer them to heirs. The proposal also increases penalties form offenders who commit certain crimes using weapons with high-capacity magazines.

Parents from Newtown, Conn., who lost their children in the shooting last December said today that shooter Adam Lanza’s attack was all the more deadly because he had high-capacity magazines that allowed him the fire dozens of bullets before having to reload. “That morning, Daniel [Barton], 19 of his first-grade contemporaries and six educators were murdered at Sandy Hook elementary school,” Michael Barton, Daniel’s father, told the committee. “All those lives were taken in less than four minutes by a single gunman armed with an assault weapon and 10 30-round high-capacity magazines. We know from the investigation the shooter left — he made a conscious decision — to leave the smaller magazines at home. He knew that by bringing the high-capacity magazines, he could kill a lot more people, and he did.” He said that when Lanza did have to reload, several students were able to escape. “Limiting the availability of these devices won’t stop gun violence or end mass shootings. We know that. But that shouldn’t be the test. The important thing is that this bill will save lives in these horrific mass shootings. We know that forcing the person to reload can provide a window to escape or to overtake the perpetrator.”

Nicole Hockley, whose son Dylan Hockley was killed at Sandy Hook, said of SB 1002, “This is a common sense solution, and it does not infringe on anyone’s constitutional rights.” She said that high-capacity magazines “only exist to spray as many bullets as possible in the shortest time frame without reloading.”

But opponents argued that guns with high-capacity magazines have become the norm and are protected by the Second Amendment. NRA lobbyist Todd Vandermyde said that magazines that hold more than 10 rounds “are the standard magazines for most of the semiautomatic pistols today, and they are certainly the standard mag for the most common rifles used in competitive shooting, hunting and self defense today.” He said the bill was drafted “poorly and broadly.” Vandermyde argued that U.S. Supreme Court rulings protect firearms that are in “common use,” and that many of the guns that are most commonly used have magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. “I do not believe that this legislation is going to pass constitutional muster.”

Democratic Sen. Dan Kotowski, sponsor of SB 1002, said the gun industry has pushed higher capacity magazines and more militaristic weapons through production and marketing. “The standard is always changing because they’re the ones that set the standard. The industry does.” He said gun producers and sellers are always trying to “figure out a way to make guns more appealing and to make them more efficient.” Kotowski, a Park Ridge Democrat, said that is why his legislation is targeted at the gun industry and not at current owners of high-capacity magazines. “When it comes to the industry and production, there isn’t oversight.

Jay Keller, lobbying on behalf of the Illinois Firearms Manufacturers Association, said gun manufacturers would leave the state if the measure is approved and signed into law. “Illinois is currently home to nearly 65 firearms manufacturers employing 8,500 employees who call Illinois home,” he said. He argued that lawmakers should instead look to issues such as mental health care, drug crimes and violence in film and video games. “This isn’t a bill to address or fix the issues. This isn’t a bill to deal with the mental health aspect of the issue. This bill does not address anything. It’s a feel-good piece of legislation.” Supporters of the bill said Illinois manufacturers would not have to stop making high-capacity magazines and could continue to sell them to retailers in other states. Keller said manufacturers see legislation like SB 1002 “a direct attack.” He said the bill “eliminates any incentive to stay within this state.”

Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno and Palatine Republican Sen. Matt Murphy voted in favor of the measure. Murphy said that hearing from the parents had an emotional effect, but he is trying to keep a level head on the issue. “We do need to try to legislate in a way that is reasoned. You don’t want to be devoid of emotion, but you don’t want it to control you either,” he said. “This is not a be-all, end-all solution to these circumstances, but the opportunity that a smaller capacity provides for lives to be saved, while maybe unlikely, I think exists. I think there is a chance that this bill could save lives, and I think it’s worth taking that chance.”

In April, Kotowski told Illinois Issues he was not sure a high-capacity magazine ban was politically possible in the short term. “Yes. I think we have to pick what’s feasible to get passed right now. As you know, I’ve advocated for the limitations of high capacity ammunition magazines in the past,” he said. Kotowski sponsored a ban that passed in the Senate in 2007, but the bill languished in the House. “I think those are more long-term,” he said of the magazine ban and assault weapons ban. SB 1002 does not have a sponsor in the House.

Cullerton said he invited the Newtown parents to Springfield to “make people feel uncomfortable, and that’s what they did.” He said they might also have changed some minds. “They’ve met with a number of other senators, who we’ve asked them to talk to, who might not have otherwise have been for the bill. And I think that they made those people think about voting for this.”

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