SPRINGFIELD – Chicago officials sparred Thursday with the National Rifle Association and more-conservative, downstate legislators over proposals being considered in the Illinois Legislature that would ban military-style assault weapons.
A two-hour House Judiciary Committee hearing on guns – its third in a week – produced virtually no common ground between the two sides in the decades-old debate over whether there is any reason for civilians to own semi-automatic guns capable of hosting high-capacity magazines.
“These weapons are designed for war, and these weapons are making their way underground to gangbangers and urban terrorists,” said Rep. Edward Acevedo, a Chicago Democrat sponsoring anti-assault-gun legislation. “Every one of us knows this isn’t going to happen any time soon. Don’t let the dysfunction in D.C. stop us from doing everything we can.”
The hearing produced familiar images, including Chicago Police Department photos of targeted guns. An NRA lobbyist argued “assault weapon” was a fear-mongering buzzword, created in the 1980s. And an FBI agent raised concerns the government would confiscate the assault weapon he uses to hunt deer should a statewide or national ban be approved, although key proposals both nationally and in Illinois would not round up existing weapons.
Republicans from suburban Chicago and suburban St. Louis blamed violence not on the guns, but on cuts in policing and laws too weak to scare law-breakers into compliance.
“Until we start locking up gangbangers for a long period of time, this is not going to make much difference,” said Rep. Dennis Reboletti, R-Elmhurst. “Law-abiding citizens are not out dealing drugs, shooting up the neighbors.”
Gov. Pat Quinn has pushed for a state-level assault-weapons ban since before the December Sandy Hook school shooting in Connecticut, a disaster which revived Capitol Hill talk of reinstating a lapsed national prohibition. Quinn has persisted, despite supporters’ belief that a consistent federal guideline is the best alternative.
A measure Acevedo introduced would prohibit the manufacture or sale of semi-automatic rifles or ones that accept magazines holding more than 10 rounds – including semi-automatic pistols – or .50-caliber guns and cartridges.
“They are powerful, accurate at a distance and have a large capacity for ammunition. This combination is what makes them so lethal,” Alfonza Wysinger, first deputy superintendent of the Chicago Police Department, told the committee.
Countered NRA lobbyist Todd Vandermyde: “They’re used for self-defense, hunting – some are specifically designed for hunting, such as the AR-15 – and they’re used for shooting competitions.”
Rep. Jim Sacia, R-Pecatonica, a former FBI agent, said he uses the weapons for hunting. He cited FBI statistics that showed in 2011, rifles killed 323 people, compared to 496 who died at the hands of tools such as hammers.
Vandermyde said advocates for gun restrictions are trying to cripple the Second Amendment’s right to keep and bear arms. But Rep. Andre Thapedi, a Chicago Democrat representing the impoverished and high-crime Englewood neighborhood, speculated that the Constitution’s authors didn’t anticipate modern firearms.
“I don’t believe the framers thought they were talking about assault weapons,” Thapedi said. “I think they were talking about muskets.”
The Judiciary Committee took testimony last week on carrying of concealed weapons, which a federal court has ordered Illinois to legalize, calling its last-in-the-nation ban unconstitutional.
Acevedo’s bills are HB132 and HB2831.
Contact AP Political Writer John O’Connor at https://www/twitter.com/apoconnor