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Illinois Democrats propose banning assault weapons and raising age for gun ownership

Ian Ellis James, an Emmy award-winning Sesame Street writer known by his stage name William Electric Black, leads a first grade class in a book reading on urban gun violence prevention at the Drexel Avenue School, Monday, Oct. 3, 2022, in Westbury, N.Y. As anxiety and depression rates have soared among young Americans, educators and advocates say children’s books can play a role in helping them cope.

Democrats say they hope to pass the massive legislation, which comes in response to the Highland Park shooting, in the lame duck session in January.

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois House Democrats plan to introduce a massive gun control bill that would outlaw the sale of assault weapons and prevent most residents under 21 from legally buying a gun.

It comes five months after shooting suspect Robert Crimo III was accused of killing seven people and wounding more than 48 at the Highland Park Fourth of July parade — and four months after legislators began meeting to try to hammer out legislative fixes they hope will prevent similar tragedies.

State Rep. Bob Morgan, D-Deerfield, who was at the parade with his family, said Democrats hope to pass the bill in the lame duck session in early January, with public hearings about the measure to be held this month in December.

The voting threshold for a bill to become effective immediately drops to 60 votes Jan. 1. Democrats currently have 73 members, leaving room for more than a dozen downstate caucus members or others with Second Amendment concerns to stray from the party line.

Key language in the measure, which is expected to be filed on Thursday, was provided to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Democrats added to their supermajority in last month’s elections, picking up five extra seats in the new Illinois General Assembly, which begins Jan. 12. But Morgan said there is no time to waste, and he said he expects the bill to see movement during the lame duck session.

“Gun violence is a daily occurrence. It really can’t wait,” Morgan said. “And I think that our caucus is going to step up and act with the urgency that this demands.”

The measure would end the sale of assault weapons immediately and allow registration of existing weapons. It also would prevent future sales of ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds and tighten regulations to prohibit “rapid-fire devices” that turn firearms that fire one shot per trigger pull into fully automatic weapons.

It also would:

  • Raise eligibility for a state firearm owner identification card to 21 for most state residents.

  • Extend the duration of a firearm restraining order from six months to one year, including renewed restraining orders.

Morgan said a separate bill is expected to be filed that would create a new civil liability cause of action against manufacturers or retailers who market firearm products through deceptive practices.

“Based on what has existed and been upheld”

Eight other states and the District of Columbia currently prohibit guns defined as assault weapons.

Police say Crimo used a Smith & Wesson M&P15, an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle whose initials, M&P, stand for “military and police.”

The Illinois proposal would rely on a definition of assault weapons that was used in federal legislation that expired in 2004 — with revisions to include firearms that have been updated or modified in the last decade, Morgan said.

A chief concern is the thousands of Illinois residents who already own firearms that would be classified as assault weapons under a ban.

Many states, including California, allow those residents to keep those “pre-ban” guns if they register them. Illinois would do the same, proposing registration for existing semi-automatic rifles that already are in public hands. Morgan called it “closing the front door on future sales.”

In 2015 in Illinois, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a local assault weapon ban in Highland Park, which could serve as a precedent for a statewide ban.

“I think there will be attempts to challenge all of these pieces, but the language is based on what has existed and been upheld and withstood legal scrutiny both in Illinois and other states,” Morgan said.

Currently, there are no federal or state laws that prohibit the possession or sale of extended magazines, which can hold more than 10 rounds. Some of these magazines can hold up to 50 rounds before a shooter must reload.

Large-capacity magazines are illegal to sell or possess in Chicago, which bans magazines that hold more than 15 rounds, and suburban Cook County, where the county’s ban starts after 10 rounds.

Stemming “rapid fire” conversion devices “flooding the streets”

The Chicago Sun-Times and WBEZ reported in October that more people in Chicago are possessing large-capacity magazines, along with “switches” that convert handguns into illegal machine guns that can fire 20 shots in about a second.

Law enforcement officials said they believe the large-capacity magazines and switches are tied to an increase in mass shootings.

A special federal license is needed to own a machine gun in the United States. That requirement was put in place under the National Firearms Act, signed in 1934 by President Franklin Roosevelt. The aim was to get Tommy guns out of the hands of criminals who were carrying out mass shootings such as the St. Valentine’s Day massacre in 1929, in which seven of gangster Al Capone’s rivals were gunned down on Clark Street in Lincoln Park.

Under that law, individual “switches” themselves — even those not attached to a gun — are considered machine guns. The penalty for breaking that law is a prison term of up to 10 years.

In addition to the federal law, state law bans the possession of machine guns. Cook County prosecutors have been increasingly bringing machine gun charges, which involve the whole firearm, not just the device that is attached to a handgun to convert it into an automatic weapon.

The proposed state law would apply to the switches themselves.

Morgan said banned “rapid fire devices” would be broadly defined within the proposed legislation and actual manufacturers won’t be listed.

Many of the devices come from China and are marketed for other purposes, such as attachments for replica “airsoft” guns that fire plastic projectiles.

“It’s so third-market that it really requires us to broadly define those terms,” Morgan said. “Because they’re just flooding the streets.”

Teenage gun ownership to be outlawed

The new legislation seeks to reduce the ability of people under the age of 21 to obtain guns and ammunition legally.

Currently, to get a firearm owner’s identification card needed to own a gun legally in Illinois, an individual must be 21 or older. But a person under 21 can still get a card with the written consent of his or her parent or legal guardian.

The new law would abolish that adult-permission provision but would create an exception for anyone under 21 who serves in the U.S. military or Illinois National Guard. Those under 21 would still be able to go hunting or sports shooting — but only under adult supervision of a parent or guardian with a valid FOID card, according to the new legislation.

Crimo, the accused Highland Park killer, was able to get a FOID card before he was 21 and buy multiple guns despite two separate 2019 incidents in which he allegedly threatened to harm himself and his family. He was sponsored by his father because he was underage. Crimo then went on to purchase three firearms at age 20 and another the day he turned 21. He was 21 at the time of the massacre.

In January 2019, Illinois had created a “red flag” law that allows relatives and police to petition courts to get a firearm restraining order, or FRO, to keep a dangerous person from having a gun.

No one had sought such a restraining order against Crimo, even though Highland Park police called to the family home in April 2019 described Crimo in their reports as having suicidal thoughts, threatening to kill his family, to “kill everybody.”

The new proposed legislation would extend the duration of such firearm restraining orders from six months to a year. It would also give state’s attorneys standing to assist in filing such an order.

Illinois also allows the state police to revoke or deny a FOID card when police officers or school officials determine someone poses an imminent threat of harm to himself or others. In 2019, the Highland Park police had submitted a “clear and present danger” report to the Illinois State Police about Crimo.

But the state police said there was an “insufficient basis” to reject Crimo’s request for a FOID card because he didn’t pose an “impending or imminent threat.” The state police had based that decision on his family’s denial of the threats he reportedly made, the lack of a court order to restrain him from having a gun or a domestic violence order against him.

“Common-sense proposals” or “unconstitutional” and wrong focus?

In July, the state police, under the direction of Gov. JB Pritzker, submitted an emergency rule change that broadened the definition of clear and present danger, which now doesn’t require that a person pose an “impending or imminent threat.”

The new rule also allows the state police to maintain records of clear-and-present-danger reports even if the person doesn’t have a FOID card or a pending application.

Morgan said he believes the legislation “reflects a lot of elements the governor has talked about” regarding gun control changes. A governor’s office spokeswoman told the Sun-Times the bill includes initiatives Pritzker supports.

“We’re excited to begin discussion and move these common-sense proposals forward,” governor’s office spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said.

As for the expected opposition to the legislation, Illinois State Rifle Association executive director Richard Pearson said he plans to fight any assault weapons ban.

“It’s unconstitutional, and they’re trying to blame the thing for what people do,” Pearson said. “And so they need to take care of the people who are committing these crimes.”

Morgan said his own experience with the trauma of the shooting made crafting the legislation “really difficult.”

“It was very difficult to constantly be reinforced by the trauma, not just what I experienced but what so many others have,” the Deerfield Democrat said. “It really was difficult to hear story after story of families who have been torn apart by the same kind of violence.”

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