City Council strengthens assault weapons ban, imposes higher fines for gun crimes nears schools

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An AK-47 assualt weapon was seen on the street after a violent night on March 18 in Chicago. | NVP Video

With no illusions about the impact on gun violence, the City Council on Wednesday jumped through a fast-closing window to strengthen Chicago’s assault weapons ban and imposed sharply higher fines for gun crimes near schools and along “Safe Passage” routes.

“This isn’t gonna cure everything. But, we have a window and it would be irresponsible and reckless for us not to take this window and actually make sure that our laws were toughened,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said after the back-to-back, 46-to-0 votes.

But, the mayor acknowledged that the real “battle” is in Springfield, “where the NRA does have sway,” unlike the Chicago City Council.

“Until we get a three-year minimum for all gun crimes with a mandatory, [85 percent] sentence, our police and our citizens are gonna be struggling against literally a flood of guns and a flood of access by gang members to those guns,” he said.

Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) added,  “Our state legislature should have passed a stronger concealed carry bill, but they didn’t. [Congress] should have passed a federal assault weapons ban. They didn’t renew it. So, we’re doing what we can.”

Emanuel is under the gun politically to protect 30,000 Chicago Public School students who will be impacted by nearly 50 school closings, the largest public school consolidation in the nation’s history.

At the same time, the concealed carry bill approved by an Il. General Assembly that overrode Gov. Pat Quinn’s amendatory veto put Chicago and other municipalities on the clock. They have 10 days after passage to approve new or updated assault weapons legislation.

With both deadlines looming, Emanuel summoned the City Council to a special meeting Wednesday, only the second in the two years since he took office.

The Safe Passage ordinance aims to reassure parents of students forced to travel further to school, sometimes through rival gang turf, by creating “school safety zones” within 1,000 feet of a school.

The zones include parks and would be in effect during school operating hours from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. as well as along safe-passage routes and buses during those hours.

Anyone convicted of possessing a gun, ammunition or another “dangerous weapon” in the zones would face a fine of up to $5,000 and 30 days in jail for the first offense to up to $20,000 and six months in prison for the third violation.

Emanuel’s revised assault weapons ban would update and strengthen Chicago’s existing ordinance, which prohibits the import, sale, transfer and possession of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in Chicago.

Violators would still face fines ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 and from 90 to 180 days in jail. But the new ordinance reflects advances in gun technology. It would ban a list of specifically named weapons and their equivalents.

Lawful owners of assault weapons would have 60 days to “legally dispose of” their guns or “remove them from the city.”

Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, has argued that Emanuel is “attacking the wrong people,” noting that assault weapons were used in only one crime on the streets of Chicago last year. Only one-tenth of the 3,000 weapons seized by Chicago Police this year were assault weapons.

Todd Vandermyde, Illinois lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, has noted that his organization is three-for-three in challenging Chicago gun laws and that the city has paid NRA attorneys $1.5 million in legal fees over the last three years.

He left little doubt that the NRA would attempt to make it four-for-four—by taking particular aim at the school safety ordinance.

“I don’t see any exemptions for people with carry permits. I don’t see any exemptions for people with F.O.I.D. cards or on their own property,” Vandermyde said.

“To sit there and say somebody within 1,000 feet of a school can’t have a firearm legally within their own home, much less on their own property? You’re running afoul of two Supreme Court decisions and a couple of Appellate Court decisions here.”

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