Chicago Sun-Times asks the impossible of proposed "assault weapons" ban

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

I hate to write about the passage of HB 5855 as a fait accompli in Illinois, but Democrats do have a supermajority in the legislature and a governor who’s eager to sign any gun control bill that gets to his desk, so the odds of passage are heavily in favor (though the likelihood of the measure standing up to a court challenge is another story altogether).

On Saturday we went over some of the gory details of the gun and magazine ban bill, which would also strip the vast majority of adults under the age of 21 from exercising their right to armed self-defense in any way; restricting their gun use only to shooting ranges and hunting trips under the direct supervision of a “guardian”. There are a host of new restrictions targeting legal gun owners and creating brand new criminal offenses carved out of the text of the Second Amendment, but HB 5855 is decidedly light when it comes to going after violent criminals. This isn’t about reducing violent crime. It’s about reducing legal gun ownership.

All of which makes a plea from the editors of the Chicago Sun-Times to “make the bill strong enough to truly curb gun violence” downright laughable. In a recent editorial, the staffers urge legislators to go as hard as they can at modern sporting rifles, ammunition magazines, and the rights of Illinois residents.

Most important among the provisions the final bill should include are banning the manufacturing and sale of assault weapons in Illinois, banning the sale of ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds and requiring existing assault weapons in the state to be registered.

If the Sun-Times editors are so gung-ho for lawmakers to write the strongest bill possible, why aren’t they calling for current owners of “assault weapons” to have to hand them over or risk felony charges? If these are truly “battlefield weapons of war that have no place in a civilized society,” then what good is it to require existing owners to register them with the state? How does gun registration make them less dangerous or likely to be used in a crime? I’m not advocating that for myself, mind you. I think it would be clearly unconstitutional. But I find it odd that the Sun-Times editors simply chose to endorse the existing language of HB 5855 instead of taking the gun ban to its illogical conclusion: confiscation, compensated or not.

Among other measures under discussion that we’d like to see in the final bill are prohibiting devices that turn one-shot-per-trigger-pull firearms into fully automatic weapons like machine guns; raising eligibility for a state firearm owner’s identification card to 21 for most state residents; and extending the duration of a firearm restraining order from six months to one year, including renewed restraining orders. Under what’s called the “red flag law,” restraining orders can be issued to remove guns from the possession of individuals who are a danger to themselves or to others.

Also, amazingly enough, all provisions that are included in the initial draft of HB 5855. Why didn’t the paper’s editors just come out and endorse the bill as written instead of portraying their demands as some attempt to hold lawmakers’ feet to the fire is beyond me, but it’s another oddity in the anti-civil rights editorial.

The entire bill must be written in a way that has teeth and impact. The devil will be in the details, and the hard work of codifying a final bill remains to be done. For example, defining which weapons are categorized as assault weapons must be done carefully.

Why exactly is that? Are the editors really worried about accidentally banning too many guns? Or is it about crafting the law with an eye towards the courts? In that case, good luck. Once you’ve decided to ban the most commonly-sold rifles in the country, you’re simply treading on thin legal ice and all over the Second Amendment rights of gun owners. HB 5855 is even worse because the magazine ban contains no grandfather provision, unlike the “assault weapons” portion of the bill. All magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition would have to be destroyed, turned over to police, or taken out of state in order to avoid a misdemeanor charge; a penalty that isn’t likely to dissuade the average drug dealer/gang member/miscreant/dumb criminal with a gun, but will very much impact the vast majority of legal gun owners in the state.

Whether raising the age would stand up in court remains to be seen. In February, a Texas federal judge threw out a law requiring people to be 21 to carry guns. If Illinois enacts a similar provision, the issue might wind up being settled by the gun-friendly U.S. Supreme Court.

As of Thursday evening, there were 40,650 gun deaths this year nationwide, more than the number of Americans who died in action in the Korean War. In Chicago, eight people were killed by gunfire over the long Thanksgiving weekend and at least 30 were injured. Nearly 600 people have been killed in shootings in Chicago so far this year. The casualty toll is beyond description.

There weren’t enough votes in the Legislature to support a special session last summer or in the fall to address gun violence, which means proponents of a new bill have their work cut out for them.

But new legislation needs to be drawn up whenever it becomes clear loopholes are allowing killings. Illinois law has too many loopholes and too many gun violence victims.

It’s time to act.

There will be more than 100,000 deaths this year due to alcohol. Is the Sun-Times ready to embrace its past point of view and once again become a leading voice in favor of Prohibition, as it was in the 1910s and 20s?

What about fentanyl, which is also on pace to kill about twice as many Americans as gun-involved homicides and suicides. We have banned that, but the same progressives who tell us the answer is to give addicts safe places to shoot up take an abstinence-based position when it comes to providing safe places to shoot where people can learn to be safe and responsible gun owners. Instead they target gun ranges and gun stores every time one tries to open up for business. Even worse, they mandate extensive training while limiting where that training can be found as much as possible. They love to tell us that we should treat both drugs and guns as a public health measure, but they can never explain their refusal to treat gun violence with an eye towards harm reduction mindset instead of the prohibitionary “don’t do guns” mentality they continually push.

The idea, by the way, that Illinois’ gun laws are lax, by the way, is completely ridiculous. In order to even possess a firearm in your home you have to obtain pre-approval and a government permission slip, and adults under the age of 18 must have someone that will sign off on them exercising their rights. There are already local bans on “assault weapons” and “large capacity” magazines in Cook County, and we all know how much safer that’s made the city of Chicago, right?

Crime in Illinois is driven by a relatively small number of overly prolific offenders, not the vast majority of legal gun owners. HB 5855 is aimed in the wrong direction, which is why no matter how many restrictions it places on law-abiding citizens it will never be strong enough to truly curb gun violence. The editors are asking the impossible of the gun control bill, and that’s without even considering the blatant constitutional violations it contains, from banning the sale and possession of commonly owned firearms to denying the right to keep and bear arms to an entire class of law-abiding adults.

There is not enough lipstick in the world to make HB 5855’s ineffective and unconstitutional provisions an attractive enough pig for SCOTUS to kiss on the lips, and I can’t help but wonder what kind of goggles or rose-colored glasses the Sun-Times editors are wearing to make the gun ban bill appear so beguiling and bewitching that they’d completely lose the ability to think critically. The siren song of gun control just sings extra sweetly to them, I guess. Some of us (including you, I’m guessing) realize the gun prohibitionists have been playing their same discordant notes for decades; occasionally introducing a new riff or two but always circling back to the theme of banning their way to safety at the expense of our ability to protect ourselves.