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The Recent Gun Control Debate – An Illinois Overview

The Recent Gun Control Debate – an Illinois overview

Illinois has played a central role in the current national gun control debate. The recent death of Chicago teen Hadiya Pendleton has received national public attention, as has the high murder count—506 homicides in Chicago—from 2012. Robin Kelly won the democratic primary for former Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr.’s seat largely due to her opponent’s history of gun advocacy. Illinois senators Mark Kirk and Dick Durbin have been central in introducing a bipartisan measure for gun control at a national level, which includes four bills reforming gun laws nationwide. In Illinois, the ban on concealed carry was repealed in December in a measure that gave legislators six months to draft a concealed weapons law. Needless to say, guns have been a hot issue in our home state—here’s an overview of what’s happened in the past three months surrounding it.

Concealed Carry:

On December 11, just three days before the Newtown shootings, the ban on concealed carry of firearms in Illinois was repealed. A Chicago Tribune article reports that legislators were given six months to draft a state law on concealed weapons. The same article also notes that the possibility of carrying any concealed, registered firearm “lingers on as a potentially major change from current law: Illinois is the sole state that doesn’t allow at least some form of concealed weapons.” In fact, this may be the logic behind the decision in the first place. Federal Judge Richard A. Posner wrote in the court’s majority opinion that “there is no suggestion that some unique characteristic of criminal activity in Illinois justifies the state’s taking a different approach from the other 49 states.” Of course, this statement was released prior to the Chicago homicide count hit 500 in 2012. So far, some have said that 2013 is on track to have an even higher total.

Robin Kelly, democratic nominee for Jesse Jackson, Jr.’s seat:

On Tuesday, February 26, Robin Kelly won the primary to be the democratic nominee for Jesse Jackson Jr.’s former House seat in Illinois’s Second Congressional District. Nationwide, her primary win has been seen as a victory for gun control advocates, as her opponents had past records of support for the NRA. An NPR article reports, “Both [Debbie] Halvorson and [Toi] Hutchinson were the recipients of A+ ratings from the National Rifle Association.” Moreover, financial support from out of state—from New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, in fact—of about $3.5 million proved key in putting the issue of gun control at the forefront of this election. Some news sources have suggested that this may be the start of a new trend for Bloomberg: “After a career that has spanned high finance, philanthropy and public office, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg may have found his next act: defeating candidates who oppose gun control.” The general election for the seat will be held on April 9, but Kelly is projected to win.

Governor Pat Quinn on guns in State of the State on February 6:

The governor’s State of the State address in February included a section on controlling gun violence. The Huffington Post remarks that “among the gun control measures Gov. Quinn spoke of Wednesday was a statewide law requiring gun owners to report any loss or theft of weapons within 24 hours.” Additionally, Quinn called for prohibition of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in Illinois, for guns to be kept out of “everyday public places” such as “schools, shopping malls, or sports stadiums,” and for strengthened background checks. He also noted that he has been actively working on the issue of gun violence in schools, citing the School Safety Summit held in Springfield in January.

Federal legislation surrounding gun control:

In the past few months, Obama has spoken extensively about gun control—including a February speech at the Hyde Park Academy. However, a bipartisan committee in Washington is the main force putting measures into action on the issue. Both Illinois senators Dick Durbin (D) and Mark Kirk (R) have stepped forward as part of the committee.

The gun control measure introduced by this bipartisan committee includes four bills, one to mandate universal background checks, a second to stop firearms trafficking and straw purchases, a third that deals explicitly with school and campus safety, and a fourth, easily the most controversial, a ban on certain assault weapons that are not already illegal.

As of the week of March 4, the only bill that had passed the Senate Judiciary Committee to come to a vote in the Senate was the prohibition of trafficking and straw purchases. A Chicagoist article writes, “The bipartisan measure specifically prohibits the trafficking and straw purchase of firearms, with violators facing up to 15 years of imprisonment or 25 years of imprisonment if the defendant knew or had reasonable cause to believe that any firearm involved would be used to commit a crime of violence.” This bill is expected to come to a vote in the Senate in April.

A New York Times article notes that although the bill to mandate universal background checks was at one point seemingly uncontroversial, some Republicans and gun advocates are retracting that support: “consensus is being threatened by a new demand from Republicans that would render the provision toothless. A deal on background checks may fall apart because Republicans don’t want any record to be kept of these private sales. They express a classic right-wing paranoia that the government might one day use these records to confiscate the guns of law-abiding Americans.”

The assault weapons ban is not projected to pass in the Senate, if it does come to a vote.

Chicago and gun control

Chicago specifically has a long history of gun control legislation. The Encyclopedia of Chicago claims that, “Since the early 1970s, Chicago and its suburban municipalities have taken a national lead in enacting firearms control legislation.” Morton Grove, a Chicago suburb, was the first municipality in the U.S. to ban handguns in 1981 – with the city and several other suburbs following shortly after. Mayors Richard J. Daley, Jane Byrne, and Richard M. Daley were key in passing gun control measures. However, after several challenges to the handgun ban, it was overturned in a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2010.

The federal measures being debated currently are no where near an all-encompassing handgun ban that once existed in Chicago – since it is very unlikely that a ban on assault weapons will pass, let alone one on the sale, transportation, and ownership of handguns. However, the outcome of these measures has potential to change the conversation in Chicago once again.

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