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Article updated: 7/17/2013 9:55 AM

As deadline looms, few suburbs ban assault weapons

By Mike Riopell

With just a few days to go before they'll no longer have the option, suburban leaders have largely declined to enact assault weapons bans, leaving future decisions on the topic in the hands of county or state leaders.

A new law that will eventually allow Illinoisans to carry concealed weapons in public also set midnight Friday as a deadline for suburbs to enact restrictions on so-called assault weapons and define what qualifies.

Existing bans like ones in Cook County and Aurora can remain in place under the law, and the Cook County Board is looking to add dozens of guns to the list it considers assault weapons and therefore banned at a meeting today.

But starting this weekend, any town or county that doesn't have an assault weapons ban can't make a new one.

Though leaders in many suburbs have discussed assault weapon restrictions, bringing the heated national and state debate over guns close to home, most have sided either with Second Amendment rights or with preserving -- as much as possible -- statewide uniformity over gun laws.

"We think that's something that should be done on a statewide -- and at the very least countywide -- level," Roselle Mayor Gayle Smolinski said. "I think it's almost unenforceable to do it town by town."

The Cook County ban on assault weapons is the law in any town in the county that doesn't have its own ordinance, and commissioners also could vote today to further clarify that local laws outweigh the county rules.

That's a tricky situation for border villages like Buffalo Grove. About one-third of the village is in Cook County and therefore subject to an assault weapons ban, and two-thirds is in Lake County, which has no restriction.

On Monday, the Buffalo Grove board voted to outlaw fully automatic machine guns, which are already illegal everywhere. The ordinance won't have any practical effect for local residents as a result.

Still, Mayor Jeffrey Braiman said officials wanted to put a local ordinance on the books -- however immediately meaningless -- so they met the state's Friday deadline and could change their rules later if they want to do so.

"We want to make sure we're giving ourselves more time," Braiman said.

Highland Park banned assault weapons, and Waukegan joined Wheeling in voting to reject a ban.

Most others discussed it with no action, which state Rep. Ed Sullivan, a Mundelein Republican, said shouldn't have been surprising. Communities already had the right to ban assault weapons before lawmakers acted, but the new law just gave a 10-day buffer before the state took that right away.

Sullivan said lawmakers negotiated the 10-day clock so that places that were already considering bans had time to finish up.

"We didn't want to circumvent attempts to implement an assault weapons ban," Sullivan said.

Gov. Pat Quinn has called for the state to give back to communities unlimited time to weigh their own rules. "We took six months to get a law," said state Sen. Dan Kotowski, a Park Ridge Democrat who agrees with Quinn. "We're limiting the rights of local governments."

The divisive debate over guns has kept suburban officials guessing all year. Early proposals would have given local boards a chance to modify where exactly people could carry concealed firearms, but the final law created a statewide standard.

The final law is unlikely to keep the debate out of the public eye as strong opinions continue on both sides.

"I was in the military, and as we well know the bad guys always manage to find the weapons they need," said Virgil Droumev, resident of Arlington Heights. "A weapon is just a tool. Why ban it?"

"Assault weapons should only be used by the military. There's no reason for civilians to have them," Larry Bowlin of Naperville said.

Naperville is not enacting a ban, with officials reasoning there hasn't been much crime related to assault weapons locally.

"We haven't had any crimes related to assault weapons since 1998," city spokeswoman Linda LaCloche said. Smaller suburbs didn't have a clear-cut option to ban assault weapons.

A spokeswoman for the Illinois attorney general's office said the new law allows only communities with more than 25,000 people to make their own rules.

But Illinois Municipal League officials said the law was vague enough to perhaps allow smaller towns to enact a ban, though the group was telling those towns to prepare for a lawsuit if they tried. Most didn't try.

"We will not because we couldn't do it since we're not home rule," Itasca Mayor Jeff Pruyn said. "Even if we were home rule we would not be interested in it. For each individual municipality to have a different assault rifle ban would cause a lot of confusion."

That kind of legal confusion will continue to exist given the Cook County law and its creation of different rules within some cross-county communities like Barrington, Roselle and Hanover Park. Even in Buffalo Grove, the Cook County ban will continue to prevail in that portion of the village, Braiman said.

Whether the state ever will adopt a more blanket ban is in question. This year, the idea never got a major vote, even though Democrats have historic majorities in Springfield, and the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., last year drove increased debate about assault weapons nationally.

A separate idea from Kotowski to limit the number of bullets in ammunition magazines won preliminary approval in the Illinois Senate but never made it to Quinn's desk.

"We're just going to go with the state law and whatever it is," Carpentersville Village President Ed Ritter said. "I guess we just don't want to become a part of the controversy."

Daily Herald staff writers Lenore Adkins, Robert Sanchez, Marie Wilson and Chris Hankins contributed to this story.

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