Make time for gun safety during the Illinois Legislature’s fall veto session

Much attention will be devoted to legislative and congressional maps, but addressing gun violence is crucial, too.

SHARE Make time for gun safety during the Illinois Legislature’s fall veto session
“Ghost guns” are displayed at the headquarters of the San Francisco Police Department in 2019.

“Ghost guns” are displayed at the headquarters of the San Francisco Police Department in 2019.

AP file

Illinois lawmakers should divert their attention from maps, maps, maps during their veto session next month to address four important gun safety issues.

Redrawing the legislative and congressional maps that will shape Illinois elections for the next 10 years will be a time-consuming process in the upcoming session, which will run for just six days over two weeks later this month. We get that. And every lawmaker is naturally extremely concerned about what their district will look like.

Other big issues may be on the table, as well, including abortion rights for minors and amending the Health Care Right of Conscience Act.

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But all the same, legislation that could make a difference in quelling the gun violence that has beset Chicago and other towns in Illinois should not be overlooked. We urge the Legislature to take up at least these four issues:

‘Ghost guns’On Thursday, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and state Sen. Jacqueline Collins, D-Chicago, called for a ban on “ghost guns,” which are firearms that purchasers assemble themselves. Ghost guns, which don’t have serial numbers and can’t be traced, are showing up on the streets with greater frequency. Because kits for the guns, which can be delivered almost fully assembled, don’t require background checks, criminals banned from normal gun purchases can easily buy them.

Illinois recently enacted a helpful law that requires guns to be traced through a background check even in private sales. Ghost guns weaken that law.

Mentions of ghost guns are becoming more common in police reports. According to Dart’s office, the number of ghost guns recovered by law enforcement shot up nearly 400% across the country between 2016 and 2020. Just on Tuesday, San Diego police seized 45 ghost guns in a raid.

It is important for the police to be able to trace guns because that is how many violent crimes are solved. Also, tracing guns allows law enforcement to hold straw purchasers accountable when it is their guns that turn up at crime scenes.

Dart’s and Collins’ proposed legislation would ban privately made firearms unless they are registered with the state and have a serial number.

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Guns in the Cook County forest preserves On Sept. 13, U.S. District Judge Robert Dow ruled that a ban on the concealed carrying of firearms in the 70,000 acres of the forest preserves is unconstitutionally broad. Instead of ordering that his ruling be immediately enforced, Dow gave the Legislature until March 15 to fix the law to keep it within constitutional bounds, perhaps by more clearly defining what makes forest preserves “sensitive areas.” The Legislature should do so.

The forest preserves have traditionally been idylls where people can escape the hectic urban environment. In the summer, large groups fill the groves for cookouts, and the presence of alcohol does not mix with well with firearms. People go to the forest preserves in hopes of seeing natural vistas and wildlife, not guns.

Gun crimes have been spilling into all sorts of areas where they previously were rare. Expressway shootings are closing in on 200 for this year, compared to 52 in 2019. Armed carjackings have nearly doubled this year and are spilling into the suburbs. Bullets have been flying in large numbers recently along Irving Park Road, in Wicker Park, Austin, Englewood, at Grand and Milwaukee near downtown and elsewhere. In Chicago, four people were killed and 38 were wounded over the past holiday weekend.

It would be tragic if the forest preserve district’s groves, prairies, trails and bike paths were added to those places where people are hesitant to venture. And if the ban on guns in forest preserves falls, what happens to the gun bans on public transportation, in places of worship or other areas where firearms are now prohibited?

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Stand your ground More than half of U.S. states have enacted “stand-your-ground” laws, which result in more homicides because they allow people to use deadly force in public, even if they safely could have stepped away from an incident. The laws are also called “shoot first” laws because they encourage quick triggers. Illinois has enacted no such law, but the courts here have ruled that people do not have a duty to retreat, which enshrines a similar idea into case law and jury instructions.

Although Illinois’ case law does not go as far as statutes enacted in other states, any type of stand-your-ground rules can make people think they have the right to shoot first.

Case law can be overridden by the Legislature. On this issues, lawmakers should do so.

Lost and stolen guns Illinois has enacted a law to require the reporting of lost and stolen guns to help crack down on gun trafficking. But police say the penalties are so weak, the law is easy to ignore.

“The General Assembly could move very quickly” on this isssue, said Kathleen Sances, president and CEO of G-PAC, a gun-safety group.

Recently, the Chicago police department assigned about 50 more cops to investigate gun trafficking. Stiffer penalties for not reporting lost and stolen guns would help them get the job done.

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