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Illinois Senate advances bans on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips

Published: Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013 9:15 a.m. CDT

(MCT) — SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Inspired by the violent pre-Christmas massacre at a Connecticut elementary school, Illinois Senate Democrats on Wednesday advanced bans on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips.

The assault weapons bill, backed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, drew heavy debate as about 150 gun-rights advocates led by Illinois gun makers and the National Rifle Association registered their opposition at a committee hearing.

NRA lobbyist Todd Vandermyde said the proposal went far beyond the Clinton-era federal ban on assault weapons and put the prohibition “on steroids.”

The ban, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Tony Munoz, moved to the full Senate on a 6-4 party-line vote won by Democrats on a public health committee.

“The Newtown shootings have had some impact” on the decision to move on the long-stalled legislation now, said Munoz, a Chicago policeman on leave. But Munoz added that city drug dealers increasingly are using assault weapons.

The measure generally bans possession, delivery, purchase and sale of military-style, semi-automatic assault weapons. People who already have the weapons would not be required to give them up.

But Vandermyde, pointing to a requirement that those who have assault guns would have to register them, said proponents of the assault weapons ban “want to treat gun owners like sex offenders.”

The Illinois Firearms Manufacturers Association called the legislation a threat to the state’s half-a-billion-dolllar gun-making industry and argued it would cost Illinois jobs. Jay Keller, representing the group, called the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings “senseless” and unimaginably horrific, but maintained an assault weapons ban is a “knee-jerk” reaction.

Separately, the Senate committee advanced a ban on high-capacity clips on a second 6-4 party-line vote. The proposal would outlaw the use of clips that carry more than 10 rounds. “Our children’s lives are at risk,” said sponsoring Democratic Sen. Dan Kotowski.

Sen. Kwame Raoul, a Democrat, called for a comprehensive approach toward gun laws in Illinois but supported the bill. He cited the recent federal appellate court decision that directed Illinois to allow citizens to carry concealed weapons as a reason to take a far-reaching approach on gun control.

Raoul said he doesn’t know whether there will be enough votes in the Senate to pass the assault weapons ban. “It’s one of those lame-duck roll calls where you don’t know what is going to happen,” he said.

The assault weapons ban is a perennial issue in Springfield, pushed repeatedly by former Mayor Richard M. Daley and now by Emanuel, who plans to hold a Thursday afternoon photo opportunity at St. Sabina’s Church to drum up public support for the bill. It has been a tough sell in a state divided by regional politics and ideologies, where the gun-control tendencies of Chicago area lawmakers are generally canceled out by the gun rights stances of Downstate hunters.

This time out, the question is whether the Newtown massacre, with innocent children gunned down by a shooter who killed himself, is enough to garner a few more votes from those who would typically oppose an assault weapons ban.

The Senate could vote on the assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition bans on Thursday or Friday before senators are scheduled to leave town for the weekend. Should it get out of the Senate, the measure also would have to pass the House, which is scheduled to come back Sunday.

Time is running out at the Capitol for major legislation as a new General Assembly is set to be sworn in next Wednesday, meaning proposed measures have to be refiled and start the approval process from scratch.

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