Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon is urging Illinois communities to consider banning assault-style weapons before new legislation is signed that could prohibit local governments from doing so in the future.
The General Assembly approved a measure last month that would end Illinois' last-in-the-nation prohibition on the concealed carry of firearms. The legislation, prompted by a federal court ruling that found Illinois' law unconstitutional, also prohibits future assault-weapons bans. It allows existing bans, such as one in Chicago, to remain in place.
Gov. Pat Quinn hasn't said whether he will sign the proposal, which the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has given him until July 9 to enact. Simon said if the bill is signed into law as written, cities with so-called "home rule" decision-making authority would have just 10 days to prohibit assault-style weapons.
"We have seen the tragic results assault weapons have had on our streets, in our schools, movie theaters and more," Simon, a Democrat from Carbondale, said in a statement to be issued Sunday. "The clock is ticking, so I encourage mayors and local officials to act now to ban assault weapons and retain local control over this important issue."
The firearms legislation was a compromise between supporters of gun rights across Illinois and advocates for gun control trying to address violence in Chicago.
It would prohibit the possession of guns in places such as parks, bars and schools, but it would allow a firearm to be securely stored in a vehicle. The measure also would require the Illinois State Police to issue a concealed carry permit to any gun owner who passes a background check, undergoes 16 hours of training -- the most required by any state -- and who pays a $150 fee and has a valid firearm owners identification card.
State Rep. Brandon Phelps, a Democrat from Harrisburg in downstate Illinois, said Saturday the proposal represents a hard-fought agreement between lawmakers statewide. He encouraged Quinn to sign it soon and do away with the uncertainty over what will be law come July 9 -- the deadline set by the federal court.
Phelps also questioned the necessity of Simon's statement. He said most Illinois communities recognize that law-abiding gun owners have a right to possess assault-style weapons, which are used for competitions and hunting.
"If a community doesn't have (a ban) already, I don't know why they would do it now," Phelps said.
Simon told The Associated Press on Saturday she wanted to be sure home rule communities -- some of which are small and may not have full-time elected officials or legal staff -- are aware of the deadline.
"It's sort of 'do it now or you can't go back,'" she said. "It's a choice I want them to have."
Simon announced in February that she will not seek re-election as lieutenant governor. She hasn't said which office she will seek instead, but she has played up her legal background, fueling speculation she may be interested in running for attorney general if the seat is open. Attorney General Lisa Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, has said she's considering challenging Quinn in the 2014 Democratic primary.
Asked about her aspirations Saturday, Simon said the attorney general's post is "one of things I'm looking at," but said it's "all still speculation."