Violence prevention experts, gun owners discuss proposed assault weapon ban

Published: Dec. 15, 2022 at 6:06 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - Illinois state lawmakers are hearing from more people concerned about assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. They also faced critics Thursday who said the proposed ban on assault weapons is unconstitutional.

Democratic lawmakers know they have the votes to pass the “Protect Illinois Communities Act” in the first week of January. However, they are also preparing for intense criticism and lawsuits if the proposal becomes law.

Researchers estimate that assault weapons add 22-36 shooting deaths to the toll of firearm homicides in Illinois each year. The Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority said Thursday that 11 states have laws preventing the sale of high-capacity magazines and prohibiting rapid-fire devices that effectively turn weapons into fully automatic guns.

ICJIA Executive Director Delrice Adams said bans on assault weapons are associated with significant reductions in the rate of fatal mass shootings and victims killed. Adams noted that one-third of public mass shootings involve an assault weapon and nearly 40% involve a high-capacity magazine.

“When an assault weapon or high-capacity magazine is used in a public mass shooting, almost 14 times as many people are injured and twice as many people are killed,” Adams said.

Gov. JB Pritzker declared gun violence a public health crisis for Illinois in November of 2021 and created the Office of Firearm Violence Prevention within the Department of Human Services. While the number of shootings has gone down over the past year, Assistant DHS Secretary Chris Patterson said the accessibility of “weapons of war” continues to devastate communities.

“Something for us to consider is what kind of common sense society are we creating for our children now that gun violence is the leading cause of their death,” Patterson asked.

Still, House Republican Leader-Elect Tony McCombie (R-Savanna) said the legislation won’t address the root causes of gun violence in Illinois.

“HB 5855 will ultimately leave our neighborhoods, our communities, and women across Illinois vulnerable to be unprotected and unfortunately victimized,” McCombie said.

A gun owner who witnessed the Highland Park mass shooting told the House Judiciary-Criminal Committee that he was deeply saddened and “pissed off” to see the disregard for life. Abraham Avalos said he knew something had to be done on the state level to address the Fourth of July attack and he understands why Democrats support the plan. Although, he said the proposed assault weapon ban won’t help Illinoisans because he believes evil cannot be stopped unless the state finds a solution to change minds and hearts.

“I’m all for that, but at what price,” Avalos asked. “At what cost for those of us who do not kill and for those of us who follow the laws?”

The federal government approved a large-capacity magazine ban in 1994, but that law expired in 2004.

“During the 10 years that our country had that ban, there was a 40% decrease in gun violence by assault weapons,” Adams explained. “However, since the expiration of this ban, the number of mass shooting deaths has grown by nearly 500%.”

Artinese Myrick said Illinois has experienced over 50 mass shootings to date. Myrick said her organization, LiveFree Illinois, supports a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Yet, Myrick said LiveFree Illinois opposes penalty enhancements for Black and brown communities and raising the FOID card age limit to 21.

“We are not arguing that 18-year-olds need assault weapons, but we are concerned that law-abiding citizens may be wrapped up in the system if they are not able to obtain weapons through the proper channels,” Myrick said. “For Black and brown communities who are overpoliced, we have more individuals who are susceptible to being swept up and forgotten in the system.”

The Illinois State Police will discuss the proposal with lawmakers on Tuesday. ISP would be responsible for conducting investigations of human trafficking, illegal drug trafficking, and illegal firearm trafficking. The Division of Criminal Investigation would then provide statewide coordination and strategies for firearm-related intelligence, firearms trafficking interdiction, and investigations. People who currently own assault-style firearms would have 300 days to register their firearms and pay a $25 fee to the Illinois State Police after the bill is signed into law.

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