Illinois House approves assault weapons ban

After a lengthy debate that stretched into Friday, the House voted 64-43 to pass the measure that would also ban “rapid-fire devices” that turn firearms into fully automatic weapons. It must still clear the Illinois Senate.

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker sits next to House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch as the Illinois House debated a measure to ban assault weapons.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker sits next to House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch as the Illinois House debated a measure to ban assault weapons.

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Six months after the Highland Park Fourth of July parade massacre, the Illinois House on Friday cleared a measure that would immediately ban the sale of assault weapons in the state and prevent sales of large-capacity magazines that hold more than 12 rounds.

After a lengthy debate that stretched into the early hours of Friday, the House voted 64-43 to pass the measure that would also ban “rapid-fire devices” that turn firearms that fire one shot per trigger pull into fully automatic weapons. It must still clear the Illinois Senate.

“This legislation will, most importantly, ban the new sale of assault weapons in the state of Illinois. This is what the people of this state have been calling for. And that’s what it will deliver,” Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch said during debate. “These are weapons that belong on a battlefield, not at parades celebrating our country’s independence or at parks or at schools.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has said he would support passage of an assault weapons ban and joined Democrats on the House floor during the entirety of the debate.

Lead sponsor, state Rep. Bob Morgan, D-Deerfield, who was at the parade shooting with his family, recounted some of the horrific encounter — the images of a bloodied toddler he saw being dragged away and the sounds of gunfire he heard. Morgan said he had a hard time at 10:14 a.m. on Wednesday, the exact time the shots rang out six months earlier.

“This is not a unique situation. And I left that day thinking I will do whatever I can, whatever is in my power to make sure, none of us, none of you, none of your communities go through what we went through,” Morgan said at the end of a nearly two-hour debate. “And yet I failed. Because within three days after the Fourth of July, there were more gun deaths throughout the state of Illinois than that day on the Fourth of July in Highland Park. So I failed. I literally have been carrying that on my shoulders to this moment as we stand here right now.”

The Illinois Senate plans to return to session on Sunday, but it’s unclear when lawmakers will vote on the measure. John Patterson, spokesman for Illinois Senate President Don Harmon, said senators are giving the proposal “an extensive review and careful evaluation.”

Outgoing Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, who has been a vocal supporter of an assault weapons ban for years, spoke in support of the measure.

“I’m tired. I’m sickened by the shootings everywhere in this state with these types of weapons,” Durkin said.

But other Republicans questioned whether the measure will pass constitutional muster and said it will criminalize lawful gun owners.

“We’re talking about gun crime. We’re talking about urban gun crime. We’re talking about mental health issues. And these are two things we’re not combating in this,” said state Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer, R-Jacksonville. “We are going after legal gun owners who have done nothing wrong. Ninety-nine point nine percent — 99.999, right — have done nothing wrong, and we’re going after these individuals, and I think it’s wrong. We’re drawing at straws. I agree with you on the problem. But your solution is going at all the wrong people.”

Those who already own assault weapons would be able to legally keep their firearms by registering them with the Illinois State Police within 300 days of the law taking effect. The goal of the legislation is to stem future sales.

Lawmakers also targeted “switches” that convert handguns into illegal machine guns that can fire 20 shots in about a second. A Chicago Sun-Times, WBEZ and NPR investigation last year found the number of switch-equipped handguns and extended magazines seized by the Chicago police has surged over the last several years, making the city a hot spot for what federal authorities have said is a national problem.

Sponsors added language that would exempt active-duty law enforcement and retirees who have served in law enforcement for over 10 years from many of the firearm purchase restrictions. Retired officers will not be exempt from the ban on high-capacity magazines.

Language that would have raised the eligibility for a state firearm owner’s identification card for most Illinois residents to 21 was not included in the measure that cleared the House. That language was included when House Democrats initially filed the bill on Dec. 1. And sponsors also added language that would allow gun manufacturers to continue to make firearms that can be sold in states where their sale is still legal.

Other lawmakers called on bill sponsors to lessen penalties for those caught with high-capacity magazines — lessening a second offense to a $1,000 fine instead of a felony charge. Criminal justice advocates had argued the new restrictions could disproportionately affect Black and Brown communities.

The Illinois State Rifle Association said it will try to repeal the law if it is passed and will also consider litigation against what it’s calling a “constitutionally flawed bill.”

“The Illinois General Assembly is working to pass a bill that the law-abiding gun owners across the state will fear, but criminals will ignore as they already do the dozens of laws already on the books,” Executive Director Richard Pearson said in a statement.

Lawmakers returned to Springfield Wednesday for the beginning of a lame duck session. The Illinois House held three committee hearings in December in Chicago about the controversial measure, which featured more than 12 hours of testimony from gun Frights advocates, anti-gun supporters and victims of crime.

After the Highland Park shooting, Democratic House lawmakers began meeting in a working group to try to come up with legislative solutions to prevent another mass shooting tragedy. Police say shooting suspect Robert Crimo III used a Smith & Wesson M&P15, an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle whose initials, M&P, stand for “military and police” to kill seven people and injure 48 others.

The legislation would also extend the duration of such firearm restraining orders from six months to a year. It would also give state’s attorneys standing to assist in filing such an order. No one had sought such a restraining order against Crimo, even though Highland Park police called to the family home in April 2019 described Crimo in their reports as having suicidal thoughts, threatening to kill his family, to “kill everybody.”

Ashley Beasley, who was at the Highland Park shooting and escaped harm alongside her 6-year-old son, spoke at the House Executive Committee, saying her son has been in trauma counseling because of the shooting.

“I fully support people’s rights to own guns. I’m a former gun owner. I have a FOID card. I don’t believe in stripping things away from people,” Beasley said. “But I do know what it feels like to run away from an AR-15. I know what it’s like to run into a crowd of people running from an AR-15. And I know what it’s like to live with a child who is trying to understand it and can only process it by holding his head and saying there’s too many thoughts and vomiting all over the place and wetting the bed. And this is not normal.”

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