Illinois assault weapons ban advances after Democratic deal, echoes of a child’s screams

Lawmakers heard audio that began with a high-pitched cry from a child at last year’s Highland Park Fourth of July parade before a 34-20 Senate vote to approve the measure.

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Flowers sit on a curb near a child’s bicycle one day after a gunman killed seven people and wounded dozens more at Highland Park’s Fourth of July parade.

Flowers sit on a curb near a child’s bicycle one day after a gunman killed seven people and wounded dozens at Highland Park’s Fourth of July parade in 2022.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois moved one step closer to banning the sale of assault weapons in the state — as the Illinois Senate on Monday approved legislation that would also halt the sale of large-capacity magazines.

Senators made several changes to the measure that cleared the Illinois House Friday, and it must now go back to the Illinois House for concurrence. 

With the Illinois General Assembly holding its inaugurations Wednesday, Tuesday is the last day of the lame-duck session.

And that second-to-last day was a busy one, including the governor and top Democratic leaders working through their differences and a mother urging action by playing the recorded screams of a child reacting to the horrors of the Highland Park Fourth of July parade massacre.

“This is what it sounds like when a child runs from an assault weapon,” Ashbey Beasley told senators after the screams filled a Senate hearing room. “This is what happens when a child goes to a parade in our country.”

Hours later, the Illinois Senate voted 34-20 to approve the package of gun restrictions. 

“There are many laws on the books, but in the end, what we believe is the proliferation and ready access to high-powered weapons that have original basis in military and combat have no place in common commerce and on our streets,” Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, and the bill’s sponsor, said during the debate.

Dozens of mourners gather for a vigil in Highland Park, one day after a gunman killed seven people and wounded dozens more by firing an AR-15-style rifle into a crowd attending Highland Park’s Fourth of July parade.

Dozens of mourners gather for a vigil in Highland Park, one day after a gunman killed seven people and wounded dozens more by firing an AR-15-style rifle into a crowd attending Highland Park’s Fourth of July parade last year.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

“This is an effort that will not solve the problem. We don’t pretend that it will. But it is an additional tool to curb the flow of firearms into our communities, firearms that absolutely destroy and eviscerate human beings and for which there are much more satisfactory substitutes for hunting.” 

To those claiming the legislation will be deemed unconstitutional, Harmon ended the debate with, “We’ll see you in court.” 

Harmon said there were several changes made since senators held a subject matter hearing on the bill Monday morning, including asking the Illinois State Police by administrative rule to provide further guidance to make sure hunters are not impeded. Private security contractors would also be offered exemptions regarding their firearms and magazines. 

Illinois Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park speaks during debate of a measure that would ban the sale of assault weapons in Illinois.

Illinois Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, speaks Monday during debate of a measure that would ban the sale of assault weapons in Illinois.

Blue Room Stream

Language on high-capacity magazines was also changed, with 10 rounds allowed for long guns and 15 for handguns. The list of assault weapons was also updated. 

Other changes including allowing the Illinois State Police to add guns to the list of banned assault weapons.

The passage came a day after Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch criticized earlier Senate revisions. But on Monday, Pritzker and Welch joined Harmon in a joint statement in support of the measure.

“After continued negotiations between the leaders, stakeholders and advocates, we have reached a deal on one of the strongest assault weapons bans in the country,” the statement said. “Gun violence is an epidemic that is plaguing every corner of this state, and the people of Illinois are demanding substantive action. With this legislation we are delivering on the promises Democrats have made, and together, we are making Illinois’ gun laws a model for the nation.” 

During debate, Republican senators argued the legislation is unconstitutional and punishes law-abiding gun owners in the state. 

State Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, answers question during a news conference in Springfield in 2021.

Shown in 2021, state Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, said Monday that an assault weapons ban would “make felons out of taxpayers.”

Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP-file

“All of you that are thinking about voting for this today, you should resign,” state Sen. Neil Anderson, R-Moline said. “This is a blatant disregard for the United States Constitution.” 

Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, said the state should focus on enforcing the laws that already exist, instead of creating new ones. 

“We’re going to make felons out of taxpayers. Why don’t we go after the bad guys, put hem being bars and actually keep them there?” Rose said. “Put the bad guys behind the bars, not the taxpayers, not the citizens.” 

Earlier, during a Senate Executive Committee meeting, lawmakers heard audio that began with a high-pitched cry from a child with not enough air to take a breath.

“What is happening?” the child screams in exasperation and in fear. “What is happening?”

Beasley played the chilling audio as she testified in support of the Senate measure. Beasley escaped harm at the Highland Park shooting alongside her 6-year-old son, whom she told lawmakers is undergoing trauma counseling. 

Ashbey Beasley plays an audio recording of a child screaming during the Highland Park mass shooting as state Senate President Don Harmon and others listen during a hearing on Monday.

Ashbey Beasley plays an audio recording of a child screaming during the Highland Park mass shooting as state Senate President Don Harmon and others listen during a hearing on Monday.

Blue Room Stream

“My son hasn’t been the same since the parade,” Beasley said. “A couple of days later, he grabbed his head and said it was too full of thoughts, and he vomited all over the place. He began to wear his clothes inside out, backward, wet the bed for months and had to see a trauma specialist. All because I took him to a parade.” 

She said someone sent her the audio of the child who was at the parade. She said understanding that it had also affected other children, just as it did her son, “broke” her. 

Harmon implored senators to remember that audio clip, saying his own words weren’t as powerful as the child “screaming, ‘What’s happening?’

“Let’s remember that when we go to the floor and take this up,” said Harmon.

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