Illinois lawmakers hope to tackle gun violence with bipartisan ideas

A display inside an Illinois gun shop.
A display inside an Illinois gun shop.(Mike Miletich)
Published: Sep. 22, 2022 at 6:53 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 22, 2022 at 6:59 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - Illinois state lawmakers continue to discuss the best strategies to address rising gun violence across the state. The House Public Safety and Violence Prevention Task Force heard more ideas from gun control advocates and supporters of the Second Amendment Thursday.

Many Democratic lawmakers want to pass an assault weapons ban to prevent mass shootings. The Gun Violence Prevention PAC and Everytown For Gun Safety strongly support that plan. However, advocates from those organizations said more can be done to address gun violence.

Everytown believes legislation that holds the gun industry accountable for “irresponsible behavior” can help save more lives. Legal Counsel Allison Shih explained that New York and several other states have new laws requiring gun manufacturers and dealers to have reasonable safeguards in place and change their practices that fuel gun trafficking and straw purchases.

“Under these laws, when businesses fail to implement these safeguards and engage in reckless or illegal conduct that violates the law, they can be subject to lawsuits by those who are harmed as a result,” Shih said.

Shih explained that prevention, intervention, and accountability are critical to preventing gun violence. Meanwhile, the Illinois State Rifle Association said lawmakers should focus more on the enforcement of current gun laws before adding more restrictions. Former state Rep. Ed Sullivan said the Highland Park shooting is a classic example of gun laws not being able to stop a violent criminal.

The Illinois State Police faced scrutiny from lawmakers last week surrounding the ability of the Highland Park shooter to get a FOID card months after he was reported as a clear and present danger. State police filed an administrative rule to address this loophole after the shooting, but members of the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules still want answers.

Sullivan and other gun rights advocates said new gun laws won’t stop daily gun violence. As a leader for the State Rifle Association, Sullivan stressed that an assault weapons ban in Illinois would quickly lead to lawsuits by law-abiding gun owners. He also argued that police would end up arresting more people of color with AR15s and other modernized firearms instead of white registered gun owners due to racial profiling. Sullivan said investments in gun violence prevention can better address the issue.

“The state of Illinois put $50 million into violence prevention initiatives. We need to do that and do it more,” Sullivan said. “We need to balance that with making sure that the money is going correctly and that we have accountability. But the data is pretty overwhelming that that is something that is starting to work.”

Sullivan said the State Rifle Association is willing to work with advocates and lawmakers to address the root causes of gun violence rather than creating more laws restricting gun owners. Meanwhile, gun control advocates said common sense gun laws will continue to be passed and upheld across the country. Several experts speaking during Thursday’s hearing mentioned how the state can already benefit from the federal Safer Communities Act.

The Safer Communities Act enhances background checks for gun buyers under 21, requiring checks by state police, local law enforcement, and courts before a gun can be sold. It also includes $750 million for crisis intervention services over the next five years to support red flag laws and $250 million for community-based violence intervention programs. The plan provides new resources to expand community mental health services and violence prevention efforts for schools.

Kathleen Sances, President and CEO of the Gun Violence Prevention PAC would like to see Illinois raise the age to obtain a FOID card to 21. If lawmakers decide not to increase the age to 21, Sances argues that they should prohibit co-signers for FOID applications if the young applicant has a history of violence or other violent indicators. G-PAC would also like to see a fingerprint requirement for every FOID cardholder instead of a voluntary fingerprint. The organization hopes lawmakers could work on a plan to require in-person FOID applications and move up the implementation phase for universal background checks.

“It’s set to go into effect in 2024 and it seems that ISP could possibly be ready to do this a whole year earlier,” Sances said. “Again, this would divert guns moving into the secondary market. We also need to codify the clear and present danger emergency rule into law.”

Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago) told the task force that it is also important to think about gun violence caused by people who are licensed. Ford said he was disappointed that several people told lawmakers Thursday that FOID holders and a right to carry don’t commit crimes.

“I wouldn’t say that,” former NRA lobbyist Todd Vandermyde interjected. “I would say that they’re on the lower end of the percentages where that occurs.”

Ford said it should be noted that there are ways lawmakers and advocates can work to protect people from gun crimes caused by registered gun owners.

“I think that’s our goal and it should be all our goals to make sure that we protect people and protect our communities,” Ford said. “Hopefully, we can continue to have these dialogues and conversations about ways to do that and not have a stonewall against finding common ground.”

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