Politics will dictate Rauner’s decision on gun bills

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Gov. Bruce Rauner meets with the Sun-Times Editorial Board on Feb. 6. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

He’s in a political pickle.

Since his first campaign four years ago, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has assiduously avoided taking a stand on what he calls, “social issues.”


The Republican business mogul-turned politician navigated those treacherous waters and staked out a path to the governor’s office in blue Illinois.

During his 2014 campaign, abortion, LGBT rights, and immigration were non-starters.

Not to mention, gun control.  Rauner, an avid hunter, has been virtually silent on the urgent need to curb gun violence.

But America’s latest horror, the shooting murders of 17 people at a Florida high school, and the heinous shooting death of Chicago Police Comdr. Paul Bauer, have tipped Illinois’ legislative scales.

Last week the Illinois General Assembly approved a bill that would require gun dealers apply for state licensing.  Gun store employees would undergo background checks and training aimed at curbing gun thefts and illegal straw purchases.

The bill passed the House, 64-52, mostly by Democrats, but with a smattering of Republicans.  Rauner has 60 days to review and decide whether to sign it into law.

It’s a tepid start, but more is in the pipeline.  The House also approved another bill to raise the minimum age to buy an assault rifle, and a ban of bump stocks, which equip a gun to fire more rapidly.

Rauner’s office issued a statement in response to the legislative awakening.  “We will review any legislation when it is sent to the Governor’s desk.  However, today we were encouraged to hear a great deal of bipartisan conversation about the critical issue of protecting our families. We are in favor of that conversation continuing.”

Rauner, it added, wants to “make our schools safer and work with law enforcement to protect our children and families.”

The clock is ticking.  In an election year, politics are paramount.  That puts Rauner in a juicy pickle.

State Rep. Jeanne Ives, Rauner’s opponent in the March 20 GOP primary, is a vocal, arch-conservative voice for the same social issues Rauner ducks.

Rauner is loath to further alienate conservative voters, the ones Jeanne Ives is after.  He is way ahead of her in the polls and wants to keep it that way.  So, he will sit on the legislation, reviewing and conversing, until after the primary.

He’ll endure weeks of attacks from the state’s Democratic Party leadership, its political action committees, gun control activists and gubernatorial candidates.

But whoever wins the six-way Democratic gubernatorial contest, Rauner will surely face a liberal Chicagoan, on his left.

That Democratic nominee will sit even farther to the left of Rauner’s fellow hunters and other downstate voters who both cherish gun rights, and loathe liberal Democrats, especially ones from Chicago.

The sweet spot lies in the Chicago suburbs, the home of moderate independent and swing voters, especially women.  The same women who are terrorized by the ubiquity of guns.  The women who wonder, every day, whether their children are safe in their own schools.  And who wonder, every day, if they will come home.

After his “review” and “conversation,” look for Rauner to sign a minimum measure or two.  An obvious “give” would be the bump stock ban.  Just enough to show he is listening and is willing to govern.

That may leave a sour taste with gun control advocates, but just enough to get Rauner out of that pickle.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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