Home Local Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Senate Democrats at odds over gun legislation as session enters final days

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Senate Democrats at odds over gun legislation as session enters final days

by staff

SPRINGFIELD — On the eve of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s second inauguration, tensions flared among Democrats over a proposal to ban high-powered firearms as the Illinois Senate introduced a measure that the governor and other supporters contend is weaker than a version the House approved last week.

The dust-up pitted Pritzker and House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch of Hillside against Senate President Don Harmon, a fellow Democrat from Oak Park. A similar scenario played out in the summer of 2021 during negotiations over a massive clean energy bill before the Democrats reached a compromise.

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The lack of Senate action on Sunday denied Pritzker — who made securing a ban on certain semi-automatic guns and high-capacity ammunition magazines a reelection campaign pillar after the deadly mass shooting at Highland Park’s Fourth of July parade — a final legislative victory before he’s sworn in for a new term.

In a statement late Sunday as the Senate was returning from an abbreviated weekend break, Pritzker said a proposal Harmon filed earlier in the day “falls short” of meeting “the urgency of now.”

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“Every time a weapon of war is used to inflict the maximum amount of damage in the shortest amount of time we mourn for the lives lost and communities shattered,” said Pritzker, who sat next to Welch on the House floor as the chamber approved its version early Friday. “Enough is enough.

“The people of this state deserve a real assault weapons ban, one that has a real accounting of the weapons currently in circulation and a real chance at ceasing the flow of more weapons of war immediately.”

Welch earlier issued a statement saying he would “not accept a watered-down version of legislation that falls unacceptably short of the comprehensive solutions that the people of this state deserve.”

In response, Harmon spokesman John Patterson said the two chambers “have shared goals” on the issues of banning so-called assault weapons and expanding abortion protections, another Democratic priority in the days before a new General Assembly is sworn in Wednesday.

The House passed a measure last week that would allow abortions to be performed by a wider pool of health care workers and seeks to protect patients and providers from restrictive laws in other states, among other responses to the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

The Senate was working on its own version, an early draft of which did not include explicit protections for patients receiving and providers offering gender-affirming care. Supporters said the Senate measure was crafted more broadly to protect a wide array of health care services without getting into a cat-and-mouse game with other states over specific procedures or types of care.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Sunday weighed in on the matter, urging the Senate in a Twitter post to pass the House proposal “so that everyone in the great state of Illinois is protected from the transphobic attacks of other more restrictive states.”

“We simply cannot leave out our most vulnerable populations,” Lightfoot wrote.

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On guns, one major difference between the House and Senate proposals centers around the requirement for owners to register guns that would be designated as assault weapons with law enforcement within about a year of the measure taking effect.

In the Senate version, owners of those guns would not be required to report the serial numbers of the weapons to Illinois State Police, unlike in the House version. Serial numbers help law enforcement track firearms used in crimes.

Ashbey Beasley, who was at the Highland Park parade but was not hurt, raised concerns about the absence of the serial number requirement in the Senate bill.

“Survivors, gun violence victims deserve a bill with teeth and that means we deserve a ban that we can enforce,” she said. “So it is imperative that the part of the bill, the serialization, that that stays intact because we need to be able to track these guns, we need to know who’s allowed to own them and that will protect legal owners, and we need to know who shouldn’t have them. And that is where we’ll be able to enforce the ban and save lives.”

The Senate version also grandfathers in large-capacity ammunition magazines, which the measure defines as exceeding 10-rounds for long guns and 15 rounds for handguns. The House version would limit magazines to 12 rounds. Gun rights proponents criticized the 12-bullet limit noting that magazines in many semi-automatic handguns commonly hold as many as 15 rounds.

If the Senate’s measure were to go into effect, anyone who already owned high-capacity magazines could only possess them on their property, on someone else’s private property with permission, at licensed gun shops or at gunsmiths, at a firing range or shooting competition, or in transit to these locations.

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In the House version, owners of high-capacity magazines would have 90 days to modify the devices to hold 12 rounds or less, surrender them to law enforcement, or sell them to a federally licensed gun dealer or someone outside Illinois who is allowed to own them.

Josh Witkowski, who represents the Illinois Federation for Outdoor Resources, said the Senate version has some of the same issues for his group as the House proposal and could ban common shotguns used for hunting and trap shooting.

“It is an issue for the tradition of hunting within the state of Illinois,” Witkowski said.”(There’d be) no capability to be able to teach and pass on the traditions of hunting and shooting to your families, which families (in) downstate Illinois have done for (years).”

The Senate adjourned Sunday without taking up proposals on either guns or abortion but was scheduled to return to the Capitol on Monday amid Pritzker’s inauguration festivities.

Chicago Tribune’s Rick Pearson contributed to this report.

dpetrella@chicagotribune.com

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jgorner@chicagotribune.com

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