SPRINGFIELD – Illinois Democrats said Wednesday they won't wait for Congress to act on gun-control legislation and planned to press ahead with a statewide ban on assault weapons and tighter firearms restrictions in Chicago in the wake of the Connecticut school massacre.
Legislation has been filed in the state Senate that would restrict semiautomatic assault rifles and rapid ammunition feeders, despite failed attempts at such measures in the final days of the last General Assembly's session earlier this month.
They know they're in for a struggle. Hundreds of people sought to testify against the restrictions, which were approved by a committee but never reached the Senate floor during the recently concluded lame-duck session.
"We have a responsibility to push ahead without waiting to see if maybe the feds will do something before the next millennium," said House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie.
The Chicago Democrat was the chief co-sponsor of a proposed House ban that was abandoned last week without a vote.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel plans to propose an ordinance Thursday to stiffen penalties for violating the city's assault-weapons ban and for failing to report a lost or stolen gun to authorities.
On Monday, Emanuel ordered a review of the city's employee-retirement funds to determine whether they include investments in gun manufacturers; if they do, he wants that money pulled out.
Pension funds covering public school teachers have come under extra scrutiny since a gunman killed 26 people – including 20 young children – last month at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
The Chicago Teachers' Pension Fund board will vote Thursday on whether to end investments with two gun-makers, according to investments director Carmen Heredia-Lopez. California's teacher-retirement system took similar action last week.
The Chicago fund's $9.5 billion portfolio includes investments of $146,000 in manufacturers Sturm Ruger & Co. and Smith & Wesson Holding Corp., Heredia-Lopez said.
President Barack proposed action Wednesday in an effort to reduce the chances of another Sandy Hook. But the biggest move – banning assault weapons – would require congressional approval. Prospects of national passage are questionable, particularly with the U.S. House in Republican hands.
New York Gov. Mario Cuomo signed into law an assault-weapons ban Tuesday. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, a fellow Democrat, envisions his state joining a trend.
"We can show Congress that the states across America, including Illinois, are serious," he said earlier this week.
Currie recognizes that even with extraordinary Democratic majorities in both the Illinois House and Senate in the new session, prospects of approving gun control are uncertain.
The issue in Illinois is not so much split by political party as by geography. Democrats control Chicago and some other urban areas, where there are high rates of gun violence. Republicans and moderate Democrats largely represent the rural areas, where there are high numbers of hunters and sport-shooters.
At Capitol City Arms Supply in Springfield, co-owner John Jackson said sales have increased tenfold since Obama started talking about "commonsense" restrictions after Sandy Hook. The semiautomatic AR-15, priced at $900 a month ago, now goes for as much as $2,500.
"The gun crime will happen," Jackson said. "The only people that follow bans and laws are law-abiding people."
Gun-rights advocates such as the National Rifle Association have regularly tamped down gun-control measures and worked against the recent Illinois legislation.
Lawmakers "continue to attempt very broad-based gun bans. We saw how much opposition there was in the lame-duck session," NRA Illinois lobbyist Todd Vandermyde said. "They've failed in the past, and I don't see any more support this time."
Sen. Dan Kotowksi, who plans to resuscitate his bill prohibiting ammunition magazines that hold more than ten rounds, expects furious lobbying to continue. He echoed Obama when he said voters need to tell their legislators they want action to "keep their communities safe."
"They're trying to protect their pocketbooks," Kotowski said of gun makers. "This is our opportunity to rein in the excesses and the irresponsibility of the gun industry and make sure we hold them accountable for the product they produce."