EDITORIAL: Bruce Rauner plays pure politics with death penalty and guns

Gov. Bruce Rauner on Monday proposed reinstating the death penalty for mass murderers and those who kill police officers — provided a jury finds the offender is “guilty beyond any doubt for killing a police officer or committing a mass murder," Rauner said. | Tina Sfondeles/Sun-Times

If some emotionally disturbed goof in Illinois buys an AR-15 rifle and turns around and shoots a lot of people, it’s on you, Gov. Bruce Rauner.

You had a chance to sign a bill creating a 72-hour “cooling off” period between the time a person buys a military-style assault weapon and when he or she can take it home. But on Monday you did your best to kill the bill.

EDITORIAL

We know, Governor. You didn’t technically kill the cooling off period. And when you campaign for reelection this summer among moderate suburban Republicans, you can say just that without strictly telling a lie.

But in your amendatory veto on Monday, you loaded up the bill with so many major new provisions that there is no way the Legislature will give it their seal of approval.

And you knew that. That was the game.

Illinois’ only hope now is that the House and Senate will override your veto — a tall order, especially in the House — and make the original bill the law. We urge them to do so quickly.

In the meantime, score another victory for the National Rifle Association.

And score another defeat for Illinoisans who have been clamoring for saner gun-control laws in the wake of mass shootings in Illinois and the rest of the country. At the Sun-Times, we’re in the middle of a campaign called “31 bullets” to prevent more needless gun deaths. To see our ideas and take action, go to 31bullets.suntimes.com.

Rauner’s amendatory veto adds a raft of provisions sure to be opposed by the more extreme pro-gun conservatives. In addition to imposing the cooling off period, the amended bill would ban bump stocks and trigger cranks, devices that make certain guns more lethal. It also would authorize the courts to issue restraining orders to disarm dangerous individuals.

Rauner’s amended bill includes, as well, one huge obstacle to it winning support from many or even most Democrats: A reinstatement of the death penalty for mass murderers and those who kill police officers.

Is Illinois about to return to the days of lethal injections? We doubt it. But we’re certain it’s not going to happen in the last couple of weeks of a spring legislative session, shoe-horned into an amendatory veto, just because Rauner wants to feel the love of the right-wing voters who deserted him in the Republican primary.

But Rauner knows that, too. This is not about passing a law. This is about creating a juicy campaign theme.

Rauner knows from experience that House Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton are loath, as a matter of parliamentary principle, to accept an amendatory veto from any governor that goes beyond making minor tweaks. And this particular amendatory veto scrambles everything.

Rauner could have approved House Bill 1468, making the 72-hour cooling off period law. The bill passed with bipartisan support. Then Rauner could have approved Senate Bill 2343, banning bump stocks and trigger cranks.

And then, if Rauner really wants to bring back the death penalty, he could have made that argument as well — straight up and on its own merits — inviting the kind of substantive statewide debate such a dramatic proposal demands.

Instead, Rauner played it too cute by half, as anybody can see.

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