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Illinois lawmakers reach a deal on assault weapons ban

A sign in Highland Park, Ill., Thursday, July 14, 2022. Illinois lawmakers Monday reached a deal on an assault weapons ban that is expected to pass Tuesday that would ban weapons like the one used in the killing of seven people in Highland Park.

SPRINGFIELD – Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker and Democratic legislative leaders reached a deal Monday on a landmark assault weapons ban shaped by the July 4th mass shooting in Highland Park, stifling GOP cries that gun owners’ rights are being trampled.

A day of behind-the-scenes negotiations among top Illinois Democrats and gun-control advocates led to a deal that Pritzker, Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, and House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, described as “one of the strongest assault weapons bans in the country.”

The measure passed on a 34-20 Senate roll call and is expected to win final legislative approval in the House Tuesday, handing the newly inaugurated governor a signature legislative win as his second term began Monday.

“Gun violence is an epidemic that is plaguing every corner of this state and the people of Illinois are demanding substantive action. With this legislation we are delivering on the promises Democrats have made and, together, we are making Illinois’ gun laws a model for the nation,” the three Democratic leaders said in a joint statement issued after the Senate vote.

Under the legislation, the sale, manufacture and delivery of AR-15-style weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, like the gun used to kill seven attendees and injure dozens more at the Highland Park July 4th parade, would be banned.

Those currently owning soon-to-be banned weapons could keep them but would have to report their guns’ makes, models and serial numbers to the Illinois State Police. Rapid-fire attachments, which have proliferated the streets of Illinois, as described in this WBEZ/Chicago Sun-Times investigation, also are banned under the legislation.

Movement on the gun legislation marked the high point of a busy legislative day on which the other hot-button topic, a major abortion-rights package, didn’t advance. It would aim to protect abortion providers and patients from any penalties imposed by states that ban abortions and guarantee gender-affirming health care, among other things.

Lawmakers have until Wednesday morning — before a new legislature is sworn in — to take action.

The breakthrough on the gun package came after dramatic testimony earlier in the day in the state Senate from Highland Park mother Ashbey Beasley, who was at the July 4th parade with her 6-year-old son, Beau.

She played a jolting phone recording of her son’s screams as she and he tried to escape the chaos that ensued as a rooftop gunman sprayed the crowd with bullets. Neither Beasley nor her son were shot.

“What’s happening? What’s happening? What’s happening?” the boy screamed as senators sat stoically while Beasley played the recording of her boy’s shrieks in committee.

“This is what it sounds like when a child runs from an assault weapon. This is what happens when a child goes to a parade in our country. This is the sound of the loss of innocence,” Beasley told the panel in urging support for the gun ban.

On the Senate floor, Republicans argued the legislation infringes on the constitutional rights of law-abiding gun owners and predicted the measure would ultimately be struck down by the courts.

“Friends, you’ve got to know the actions you’re taking right now are tyrannous,” said state Sen. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, the GOP’s failed gubernatorial candidate in November.

“You also must know I and millions of other gun owners in this state will not comply,” Bailey said.

Before the final vote, Harmon, the bill’s lead Senate sponsor, mocked GOP complaints about the measure and predictions that it eventually might be blocked by a conservative U.S. Supreme Court sympathetic to gun rights.

“We’ll see you in court,” Harmon said.

Dave McKinney covers Illinois politics and government for WBEZ.

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Illinois Public Radio

Illinois Newsroom gets stories from public radio stations from across the state, including WBEZ-Chicago, WCBU-Peoria, WGLT-Normal, WVIK-Rock Island, WIUM-Macomb, WNIJ-DeKalb, WSIU-Carbondale, WUIS-Springfield, and St. Louis Public Radio.

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