Bipartisan work yields gun bills, fate rests with Rauner
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Legislation aimed at curbing gun violence - some of which wouldn't have stood a chance just a few years ago - won approval in the Illinois General Assembly this spring amid scrambling to respond to mass shootings around the country.
Ultimately, they're bound for Gov. Bruce Rauner, who's proposed his own measures, in some cases similar to those OK'd by Democrats who control the Legislature. But they come with a price tag: Rauner's election-year demand that capital punishment be reinstated for killers of police officers and mass-murderers.
He's given no indication whether he'd approve any of the plans separately, such as a 72-hour waiting period before delivery of any firearm - which is currently the law for handguns - but would increase from a 24-hour wait for long guns.
Despite the call for a "comprehensive" package, spokeswoman Rachel Bold said, proposals are arriving "piecemeal" and staff members are reviewing them "to see how they fit into a larger strategy for public safety."
The wait period is the only one of three key gun restrictions the Legislature approved that's so far been sent to the Republican's desk. But each - including a plan to require firearms dealers to be licensed with the state - was endorsed by such large margins that they're liable to withstand gubernatorial vetoes. Rauner vetoed an earlier version of the dealer licensing bill this spring before it was retooled and approved by lawmakers again.
It's an indication that while pro-gun Republicans are softening some positions on firearms in light of schoolhouse shootings in the past few months, Democrats, too, are not taking such a hard line at the bargaining table.
And they're hearing a lot more from their constituents, said Dan Kotowski, a Park Ridge Democrat who was a constant gun-control advocate in the Senate for nearly nine years until 2015.
"A lot of people who didn't really believe it could happen to them now, more than ever, fear that it's just a matter of time before something happens to them or their children," said Kotowski, president and CEO of ChildServ, a family advocacy group. While lawmakers worry about violence, he said, they're also aware that "elected officials can lose their jobs if they continue to be on the side of the gun industry."
Protests by teenagers and children demanding action after the Valentine's Day shootings in Parkland, Florida, motivated lawmakers, said Rep. Kathleen Willis, a Democrat from Addison who sponsored the gun-licensing bill and the third key measure, which allows people to directly petition courts to confiscate guns from family members who pose a danger to themselves or others.
None of it happened overnight, Willis said. She's worked on the legislation for four years. But groundwork laid in advance can pop an issue to the forefront when crisis strikes, and a bipartisan approach, adopting a give-and-take spirit in negotiations, can bear fruit.
The waiting period, for example, started as a Democratic plan to increase the delivery delay only for what legislators defined as an "assault weapon" to 72 hours, while leaving traditional shotguns and rifles at 24. Republican Rep. Grant Wehrli, an avid hunter from Naperville, voted for the resulting bill, saying it "clarified" the law.
"If I want a new shotgun for duck season, I'm shopping for that months in advance," Wehrli said. A short expansion in the "cooling off" period won't hurt law-abiding gun owners, he said. And "if someone in a fit of rage can walk in and buy a weapons, that's probably a bad idea."
The gun-licensing bill, which Rauner vetoed in March as bureaucratic and burdensome to small business, was scaled back dramatically in the latest edition. It essentially creates a system requiring record-keeping and the threat that state or local police can inspect gun dealers generating complaints they're not following the law.
The Senate sponsor, Democrat Don Harmon of Oak Park, has worked on the plan for years as a means of cutting back on the number of guns sold to straw purchasers who transfer them to criminals.
"I'm focused on trying to find that gap in the chain of commerce, and regulating gun dealers is the place to start," Harmon said. "That's the first sale of a gun to the public."
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