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Gun makers ponder weapons ban response

CHICAGO – Illinois gun manufacturers are developing a strategy to address Gov. Pat Quinn’s push to ban semi-automatic weapons in the wake of the Connecticut school shooting rampage.

Mark Westrom, owner of Geneseo-based ArmaLite, told Lee Enterprises newspapers in Illinois that his company and other state gun makers are considering a possible response.

Westrom said there shouldn’t be a rush to judgment following the shooting deaths of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, and he said the issue of semi-automatic weapons might better be addressed at the federal level rather than by Illinois lawmakers.

Authorities said the Connecticut shooter used a military-style assault rifle and carried handguns during the rampage at the school.

ArmaLite and several other gun manufacturers in western Illinois employ several hundred people overall, and the possible loss of jobs has fueled opposition to past ban efforts.

In the past, gun makers have threatened to leave Illinois if an assault weapons ban were to be enacted. Les Baer Customs, which had about two dozen workers, crossed the Mississippi from its Hillsdale location and settled in LeClaire, Iowa.

ArmaLite’s Westrom said the debate should include how to deal with people with severe mental illness and guns.

“This is one of those unfortunate situations where an irresponsible or sick individual has caused a huge problem for us,” Westrom said. ArmaLite makes military-style rifles and other weapons.

Quinn, a Chicago Democrat, doesn’t want to ban the manufacture of assault weapons, but instead to halt their sale to civilians.

“There is no place in Illinois for weapons designed to rapidly fire at human targets at close range,” said Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson. “A statewide ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines is good public safety policy that would help prevent future tragic incidents in Illinois.”

The governor has said he wants the Legislature to take up the issue during the early January lame-duck session, but Anderson said the issue may take several months to resolve.

“A ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines would help ensure citizens can go about their lives without the threat of violence,” Anderson said.

State Rep. Pat Verschoore, a Milan Democrat, said Illinois may not have to act if a ban is put in place by President Barack Obama and Congress.

“I think we should just wait and see what happens on a national level,” Verschoore said.

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