GOP candidates for governor differ on gun laws

SPRINGFIELD - As Illinois prepares to become the last state in the nation to issue concealed-carry gun permits, the four Republicans contending for Illinois governor express a range of differing views about additional gun issues facing the state, including a proposed ban on assault-style weapons and stricter gun-crime sentences.

In a campaign questionnaire for The Associated Press, the four candidates - state Sens. Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard, state Treasurer Dan Rutherford and businessman Bruce Rauner - all said gun rights need to be protected, but that some public safeguards should exist.

The four differed over assault-style guns - high-capacity weapons that have been used in some of the deadliest mass shootings. They currently aren't illegal statewide, and a proposed statewide ban backed by Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn was pulled from consideration last year in Springfield. About 20 communities voted last year to ban them as part of the concealed carry legislation process last spring.

Dillard, of Hinsdale, and Rauner, of Winnetka, both left open the possibility they would support a ban. Rutherford, of Chenoa, and Brady, of Bloomington, oppose such a ban.

In a slight turn from Republican platforms in support of expanded gun rights, Dillard indicated it's possible he could support the ban depending on how the law was drafted.

"As a dad with young children, I'm concerned about high-capacity weapons and public safety," Dillard wrote.

Rauner gave a more vague answer, saying he supports background checks that keep guns away from criminals and people with mental illness.

"Going beyond that requires a very careful balance between promoting public safety and protecting constitutional rights," Rauner wrote.

Another gun issue facing lawmakers this year is minimum prison sentences for those carrying illegal guns.

So-called "mandatory minimum" legislation sponsored by state Rep. Michael Zalewski, a Democrat from Riverside, establishes a three-year minimum prison sentence for many gun crimes and increased prison time for repeat offenders. The bill also would require prisoners to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences for gun crimes.

It is opposed by gun rights activists and black lawmakers who fear it would put a strain on the state's already overcrowded prisons, punish unknowing first-time offenders, and focus too much on locking up young black and Latino men. Zalewski pulled the bill last fall, saying it needed more time.

Rutherford and Brady both indicated that under certain conditions, they could support the longer-sentence proposal backed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. It failed to get a House vote amid fiery rhetoric last fall but is re-emerging this spring session. Dillard wrote in the questionnaire that he doesn't support that bill, while Rauner said he has concerns about the proposal but didn't elaborate.

Rutherford said he could support the bill if it curbed gun crimes without restricting the rights of lawful gun owners. He said crimes using a firearm shouldn't be tolerated, but he doesn't want law-abiding gun owners to lose their privileges. Brady, who recently filed legislation that would increase sentences for habitual offenders from six to 10 years, seemed wary of the idea.

"I fully understand concerns that first-time offenders might be unknowingly caught in a situation resulting in a mandatory minimum sentence," Brady said.

Zalewski last month proposed a measure that focuses on lowering the prison population, which is among his opponents' concerns. It is part of a package of bills that would not require prison time for lower-level drug, theft and even some gun crimes, while expanding the use of electronic monitoring devices.

The measures are scheduled to be discussed at a House committee hearing Wednesday.

Meanwhile, just as the state's concealed carry program is rolled out - the first permits could be issued as early as next month - state lawmakers are already trying to tweak other parts of the gun legislation.

Each Republican candidate said he supported passage of the concealed carry law, and none suggested changes they would make.

Last July, Gov. Quinn moved to add concealed carry restrictions after the law passed, but state lawmakers quickly rejected those changes, overriding Quinn's veto with large majorities a week later.

Tio Hardiman, Quinn's lone challenger in the Democratic primary election, wrote that he supports the concealed carry law as passed by state lawmakers. But the anti-violence activist from Hillside doesn't support a ban on assault weapons or the mandatory minimum legislation backed by Emanuel.

"There is no data to back up the fact that the legal gun owners in Illinois are part of the gun violence problem in Illinois," Hardiman said. "I support the Second Amendment all the way."

The four Illinois Republican gubernatorial candidates from left, state Sens. Kirk Dillard and Bill Brady, state Treasurer Dan Rutherford, and venture capitalist Bruce Rauner, take part in a debate Feb. 4 in Naperville, Ill. The four candidates disagree on whether assault-style weapons should be banned. Their answers to a questionnaire from The Associated Press show they also disagree on whether to support a measure creating minimum prison sentences for gun crimes. Associated Press
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