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Gun dealer licensing sent to Rauner after emotional pleas by Cupich, activists

Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich speaks during a news conference Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018, in Springfield, Ill.\(Rich Saal/The State Journal-Register via AP)

SPRINGFIELD — The day began with a plea to lawmakers from the influential leader of Chicago’s Catholic Archdiocese to pass “sensible” gun control measures in the name of “murdered children” in Parkland, Florida, and Newtown, Connecticut.

As the day wore on, Cardinal Blase Cupich’s call was echoed in emotional pleas from gun control advocates, many who have lost family members to violence, at rallies outside the Capitol.

And it ended with controversial legislation being sent to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s desk that would require gun dealers to be licensed by the state, and not just the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms.

The House also passed a bill to raise the minimum age from 18 to 21 to buy an assault rifle; cleared a measure to ban the sale of bump stocks and other modifications and another which requires a 72-hour “cooling off” period on assault rifle sales.

The House, however, is still working to gain support on other measures, including one named after Chicago Police Cmdr. Paul Bauer, who was shot and killed in the James R. Thompson Center in the Loop earlier this month. The bill would ban the sale of body armor and high-capacity gun magazines to anyone other than police officers, licensed security guards and members of the armed forces. Shomari Legghette, charged with the murder, was allegedly wearing body armor and using a gun with an extra-capacity magazine when he is accused of shooting Bauer. Legghette also is a four-time felon.

Chicago Police Commander Paul Bauer. | CPD photo, distributed by the Associated Press

House Speaker Mike Madigan quickly applauded the day’s action, saying it showed “Democrats and a few thoughtful Republicans stood up and answered the call,” while noting Rauner’s “silence.”

“While the successful passage of these bills is a critical step for safer communities, it should have been a step we took together rather than another example of the governor’s failure to lead,” Madigan said.

Rauner’s office put out a more muted response, saying they are “encouraged to hear a great deal of bipartisan conversation about the critical issue of protecting our families.”

“We will work with the General Assembly to keep guns out of the wrong hands, ban bump stocks, make our schools safer and work with law enforcement to protect our children and families,” Rauner spokeswoman Rachel Bold said.

Rauner — who is an avid hunter —has for years steered questions about gun control to dealing with “mental illness.” And he’s also avoided answering specifics about whether he supports an assault weapons ban.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel took to the podium in Chicago alongside Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson on Wednesday afternoon after the measures cleared, thanking the superintendent, and Cupich for helping to personally secure votes “at the last minute.”

Emanuel urged Rauner to sign the gun licensing measure immediately.

“It has been debated for 15 years. It should take 15 minutes for him to sign it,” Emanuel said.

The gun dealer licensing bill takes aim at gun shops that sell guns, only to have the buyer turn around and re-sell them on the streets to gang members.

“This is one of the most important bills that we will vote on this session because this bill will put a huge dent in the ability of criminals, straw purchasers to get these guns and sell them to gang members who then bring them into our streets and kill people,” state Rep. Scott Drury, D-Highwood, said during a lengthy debate.

The measure cleared 64-52; Several Republicans and some Democrats noted the measure didn’t include licensing big box stores such as Wal-Mart or other stores where just 20 percent or less of the profits come from guns.

A package of other bills also cleared the House, but must head back to the Senate for committee hearings. The Senate had previously approved the gun licensing measure, and also cleared the trailer bill and another which creates a process where family members can go to court and have guns temporarily taken away.

Steve Brown, Madigan’s spokesman, said House Democrats are working to build support and “hopeful the actions today will encourage people to be supportive of this and other ideas.”

Cupich came to the state Capitol Wednesday morning for meetings with legislative leaders, and with a plea to lawmakers to pass “sensible” gun control measures. The Roman Catholic leader said defense of Second Amendment rights “cannot take a second place to the rights our children are demanding to guarantee their futures.”

Cupich was asked how to bridge the gap between people throughout the state who don’t want changes to gun laws, including hunters.

“This has nothing to do with people who want to have the sport of hunting. I think that’s a very healthy thing. It’s a great culture. But we do not need high-powered weapons, high-powered magazines,” Cupich said. “We don’t need bullets, piercing bullets that kill policemen. We don’t need bump stocks.”

Contributing: Mitchell Armentrout