Lawmakers must make assault weapons bill strong enough to truly curb gun violence

The state needs to ban the sale of assault weapons, ban the sale of ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds and require existing assault weapons in the state to be registered.

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Assault rifles are displayed at Coastal Trading and Pawn on July 18, 2022, in Auburn, Maine.

Robert F. Bukaty/AP

People with terrifying firearms of immense power keep mercilessly hunting the residents of Chicago and Illinois. Scattering and fleeing is not the answer.

Members of the Legislature are right to say they are taking a stand with legislation designed to reduce gun violence, as reported by Tina Sfondeles and Frank Main in Thursday’s Sun-Times. The bill was introduced on Thursday evening, and the next steps are committee hearings and negotiations, so it’s hard to know what the legislation will look like when it comes up for a vote. But the final bill needs to be a strong one.

Just this year, Illinois has suffered from some 53 mass shootings, at least 36 of them in Chicago, according to G-PAC Illinois, an anti-gun violence group.

A strong bill would include measures that make the city’s and state’s streets safer.

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Most important among the provisions the final bill should include are banning the manufacturing and sale of assault weapons in Illinois, banning the sale of ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds and requiring existing assault weapons in the state to be registered. 

Many of the shootings in Chicago are committed with firearms that have large capacity magazines that hold 30 or even 50 bullets. Police can tell when they show up at the site because the area is littered with shell casings. High-capacity gun magazines make it easier to kill many people in a hurry.

Among other measures under discussion that we’d like to see in the final bill are prohibiting devices that turn one-shot-per-trigger-pull firearms into fully automatic weapons like machine guns; raising eligibility for a state firearm owner’s identification card to 21 for most state residents; and extending the duration of a firearm restraining order from six months to one year, including renewed restraining orders. Under what’s called the “red flag law,” restraining orders can be issued to remove guns from the possession of individuals who are a danger to themselves or to others.

The entire bill must be written in a way that has teeth and impact. The devil will be in the details, and the hard work of codifying a final bill remains to be done. For example, defining which weapons are categorized as assault weapons must be done carefully.

Up to states to act

New legislation to address gun violence nationally is unlikely to get through Congress, even though President Joe Biden is calling for a ban on assault weapons. When the new Congress convenes, the House will be majority Republican, which means sensible legislation addressing gun violence is unlikely to go anywhere on the federal level. It’s up to the states to act.

Banning the sale of assault weapons in Illinois and raising the age for getting a state firearm owner identification card to 21 would help prevent shootings such as the July 4 attack on parade-goers in Highland Park. Illinois law now sets the age limit at 21, but a parent or legal guardian can grant consent for someone 18 or older; that exception would be eliminated. The only remaining exception would be for those serving in the military.

Whether raising the age would stand up in court remains to be seen. In February, a Texas federal judge threw out a law requiring people to be 21 to carry guns. If Illinois enacts a similar provision, the issue might wind up being settled by the gun-friendly U.S. Supreme Court.

As of Thursday evening, there were 40,650 gun deaths this year nationwide, more than the number of Americans who died in action in the Korean War. In Chicago, eight people were killed by gunfire over the long Thanksgiving weekend and at least 30 were injured. Nearly 600 people have been killed in shootings in Chicago so far this year. The casualty toll is beyond description.

There weren’t enough votes in the Legislature to support a special session last summer or in the fall to address gun violence, which means proponents of a new bill have their work cut out for them.

But new legislation needs to be drawn up whenever it becomes clear loopholes are allowing killings. Illinois law has too many loopholes and too many gun violence victims.

It’s time to act.

The Sun-Times welcomes letters to the editor and op-eds. See our guidelines.

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