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Few Ill. towns opting for assault weapons bans

Published: Friday, July 5, 2013 8:50 p.m. CDT

(Continued from Page 1)

SPRINGFIELD – As Illinois prepares to become the last state in the country to allow the concealed carry of firearms, few of its communities appear concerned that the window allowing them to ban assault-style weapons will rapidly begin closing next week.

Despite encouragement from Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon – and on the verge of almost-certain enactment next week of a law allowing residents to carry concealed weapons – only four communities have adopted semi-automatic gun restrictions out of more than two dozen taking them up.

According to interviews and information from gun-rights groups such as the Illinois State Rifle Association, 14 communities have rejected or decided not to act on proposed bans. Ten have yet to vote or have delayed consideration.

All of them are in the Chicago metropolitan area. Those adopting bans – Highland Park, North Chicago, Melrose Park, and Skokie – join eight other cities, also near Chicago, that already regulate possession or sale and transfer of illegal weapons, according to research compiled by the Illinois House Democrats' staff.

The odd linkage of packing handguns in public to allow city-based bans on semi-automatic weapons comes from a delicately negotiated settlement that will make Illinois the last of 50 states to allow the carrying of concealed weapons.

Lawmakers approved concealed carry in May after a federal appeals court ruled it is unconstitutional for the state to prohibit it.

Gun-rights supporters pushed through the House a concealed carry initiative which invalidated all local ordinances regulating guns. Chicago Democrats in the Senate demanded that Chicago be allowed to keep its ban on assault-style rifles, leading to the compromise allowing those places without such bans 10 days to enact them.

"I just don't see the place for it. I'm not against people having guns, not at all," said Melrose Park Mayor Ron Serpico, whose village board unanimously voted for a ban in late June. "The thing I can't get my arms around, I know when the Constitution was passed, I don't think they could envision these types of guns."

Along with the dozen communities banning them, Deerfield officials voted not to ban the weapons but adopted storage regulations. Outside the Chicago area, only a couple communities requested information from Simon when she urged cities in early June to consider bans. None followed up.

Lawmakers adopted the concealed carry legislation by margins large enough to invalidate Gov. Pat Quinn's amendatory veto of the bill on Tuesday. Quinn called the initiative "flawed" and along with tougher restrictions, suggested there be no time limit on enacting local assault-weapons bans.

The Highland Park City Council agreed with Quinn's contention that larger cities with "home rule" powers should have a say on semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity ammunition feeders.

"It became a question of, this is a home-rule right, and we think we ought to retain it," Highland Park City Manager Dave Knapp said.

Skokie officials decided to enact an ordinance for review later. "We can amend it or repeal it once the legal dust settles," corporation counsel Michael Lorge said.

In Chicago, with a long history of tough gun restrictions, Mayor Rahm Emanuel last month proposed a tougher city assault-weapons ban. It would include cover weapons not included in the current ordinance and would "reflect advances" in gun technology, according to a news release.

But not every community is toeing the anti-gun line. The Illinois State Rifle Association has worked against what association officer Mike Weisman said is needless regulation because semi-automatic rifles are not often used in murders. FBI statistics indicate that of 377 Illinois firearms-related murders in 2011, only 13 were not committed with a handgun. Five were by shotgun, one by rifle – although the type is not specified – and seven by an unreported type of gun.

"They don't need local control over these firearms," Weisman said. "There are no problems, so they're creating a tough, painful solution to a non-existent problem."

More than a dozen cities have heard the outcry from gun owners.

"I never had so many emails, so many phone calls from people who didn't want us even playing with this issue," said Dean Argiris, the village president of Wheeling, where he and the entire board of trustees voted against an ordinance Monday night.

The Northbrook Village Board took a pass last month.

"We believe that it belongs at the federal or state level," village president Sandra Frum said.

Simon's office said her letter to more than 200 home-rule communities generated requests for information and sample ordinances from six cities, none of which have appeared to have taken up the issue. Mayor Joel Fritzler, Simon's hometown of Carbondale, is one official who requested information but chose not to pursue it after a tepid response from city council members.

"To have a patchwork system in Illinois just doesn't make sense," Fritzler said.

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The concealed carry bill is HB183.

Online: http://www.ilga.gov

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Contact John O'Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor

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Don Babwin reported from Chicago.

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