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Illinois Senate splits gun vote

Published: Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

SPRINGFIELD – Illinois Senate Democrats seeking assault-weapon restrictions planned to split the issue Wednesday, seeking committee approval of a ban on high-capacity ammunition clips and a separate restriction on semiautomatic guns.

Sen. Dan Kotowski told The Associated Press he will press a measure that would limit ammunition magazines of more than 10 rounds. A similar measure got Senate approval in 2007, but Kotowski downplayed the idea that a separate effort on shells stood a better chance of passage.

“The reason why I’m focusing on that is because [high] magazine capacity has led to the increased lethality and the dangers associated with automatic weapons,” the Park Ridge Democrat said.

A separate measure restricting military-style assault weapons “designed for war,” as one Senate staffer phrased it, was also on the Senate Public Health Committee schedule Wednesday. Sen. Antonio “Tony” Munoz, D-Chicago, is the sponsor.

The proposed curbs on assault weapons after a school massacre last month in Connecticut left 20 children dead took center stage Wednesday night after an expected vote on landmark same-sex marriage legislation hit a snag.

Marriage-equality supporters said the failure to get Senate approval for a procedural measure that would have allowed a committee hearing was a blip and will delay consideration only until today.

But it was anticlimactic after a day of pressure on both sides featuring a gay TV star campaigning in favor and more than 1,000 religious leaders, from Catholics to Muslims, signing a letter opposing it.

Gov. Pat Quinn supports plans and has said he wants a same-sex marriage bill sent to him from the legislative session scheduled through Jan. 9, the final days of the 97th General Assembly. It includes dozens of lame-duck lawmakers who won’t be sworn into the next assembly and thus have more freedom to back contentious issues.

Quinn, a Democrat, called for an assault-weapons ban in August after a mass shooting at a Colorado movie theater. But he took the approach – highly unpopular with legislators – of rewriting a fairly innocuous bill covering ammunition purchases, substituting language on semiautomatic weapons.

That failed when the General Assembly voted to override his amendatory veto, but mostly because lawmakers thought Quinn had overstepped his authority.

With the Connecticut shooting, assault weapons – banned nationally for a decade but not renewed when the U.S. law expired in 2004 – jumped back to the surface of legislative consideration.

Kotowski successfully shepherded a high-capacity magazine limit through the Senate in May 2007. The 31-26 tally included a handful of Republicans, although it never got a House vote. Kotowski would not speculate on whether putting another ammunition limit before Republicans now might force their hand again and ease passage.

The gay marriage issue was headed for an Executive Committee hearing before the Senate rejected Sen. Heather Steans’ attempt to attach the marriage language to existing legislation. A spokeswoman said Senate Democrats will seek another bill and move forward today.

Steans, a Chicago Democrat, has said she has enough Senate votes for approval of the legislation, which would remove from state law a prohibition on marriage between two people of the same sex. But she also said timing is key because some supporters aren’t in attendance yet.

If approved, Illinois would become the 10th state to approve same-sex marriage, a proposal made just 18 months after the state recognized civil unions and one riding momentum from several events including public encouragement from President Barack Obama.

During an appearance Wednesday in Chicago, Jesse Tyler Ferguson of the Emmy-winning series “Modern Family” announced his support alongside his fiance, Justin Mikita, and Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon. Ferguson is a gay actor who, on the ABC comedy, portrays a gay man raising a child with another man.

“I’m looking forward to raising a family with Justin and having our kids grow up in an equal America,” Ferguson said. “I had a hard time coming out and certainly had struggles with my parents.”

Proponents say the legislation would not impinge on religious beliefs. Religious organizations would not have to recognize or consecrate gay marriage.

But a day after influential Cardinal Francis George of Chicago denounced the idea as going against the “natural order” of traditional marriage, a letter from 1,700 state religious leaders was sent to every Illinois lawmaker deriding claims that the proposal wouldn’t interfere with religious freedom.

“The real peril: If marriage is redefined in civil law, individuals and religious organizations – regardless of deeply held beliefs – will be compelled to treat same-sex unions as the equivalent of marriage in their lives, ministries and operations,” said the letter, penned by leaders of Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist, Mormon, Anglican, and Islamic faiths.

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