Daily Herald opinion: Proposed assault-style weapons ban at least makes it harder to commit a mass shooting in Illinois

On its face, the shooting of a teacher last Friday in Virginia by a 6-year-old wielding a handgun has almost no relevance to legislation that appears to be leading this week to a ban on the sale of assault-style weapons in Illinois.

But for one curious statement.

In a response to the Richneck, Virginia, case, the state's governor, issued on Saturday what now appears to be the standard response from gun-control opponents to any call for regulation on gun ownership. According to numerous reports, after the Richneck shooting, Gov. Glenn Youngkin downplayed the need for increased gun control but emphasized the importance of mental health funding and stricter penalties for people who commit crimes with guns.

Now, there seems little doubt that improved mental health care and stronger penalties for misusing guns have an important role to play in America's struggle with gun violence. But one cannot help wondering how either action would have an impact on a shooting at school by a 6-year-old.

Which brings us to the state of the gun debate generally and the value of the proposed ban on assault-style weapons in Illinois specifically. Gun control advocates want to see something done to try to stem a growing crisis of mass shootings. Supporters of the gun lobby reflexively oppose anything that could reduce the number of guns proliferating in the country or impede access to them.

Thus, the legislation passed by the state House last week and the Senate on Monday draws the standard rebukes from the gun lobby while offering at least some minimum comfort to Illinoisans who want to feel free to go to a movie, grocery store, church, mall or parade without fear of being fired on by someone with a weapon capable of shooting off scores of rounds of deadly ammunition in a matter of seconds.

Illinois' law, which the governor has promised to sign, does address another canard of the gun lobby - the fear that gun control is the precursor to some vast scheme to confiscate legitimate sport and hunting weapons from everyday citizens. The bill allows anyone currently owning one of the scores of banned weapons to keep it, as long as they get an endorsement on their FOID card and adhere to limits on who they can sell the gun to. It merely prevents the expansion of assault-style weapons in Illinois and attempts to better manage who can own and use any firearm.

Will this ban assure there will be no repeat here of nightmares that have played out in Las Vegas, Uvalde, Sandy Hook, our own Highland Park and countless other cities and towns across the country? No gun law can promise that. Just as no conceivable gun law alone could keep a 6-year-old from carrying a handgun into class in his backpack and shooting a teacher.

But the state's ban will make it harder to carry out mass killings. And, it does so without threatening the ability of Illinoisans to acquire and keep guns for protection, hunting or sport shooting. That, at least, is something. Perhaps in conjunction with better mental health care and stronger penalties for misusing weapons, it could even lead to something more.

Something like safety.

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