Will Democrat infighting derail proposed Illinois "assault weapons" ban?

Will Democrat infighting derail proposed Illinois "assault weapons" ban?
AP Photo/John O'Connor

Illinois Democrats have until mid-day Wednesday to get HB 5855 to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk before the lame-duck legislative session expires, which should give them plenty of time to ram their gun-banning bill into law without having to start the process over again once the 2023 session kicks off on Wednesday afternoon. But after clearing the House late last week, the state Senate did not take up the gun control bill as expected on Sunday, and Pritzker and some House Democrats are complaining that the Senate version of the legislation is too watered-down for their liking.

The Democratic majorities in both chambers may agree in principle on a ban, but they’re still trying to find common ground on the particulars, even as the House ended up making some changes of its own to HB 5855 before approving it on a mostly party-line vote.

The dust-up pitted Pritzker and House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch of Hillside against Senate President Don Harmon, a fellow Democrat from Oak Park. A similar scenario played out in the summer of 2021 during negotiations over a massive clean energy bill before the Democrats reached a compromise.

The lack of Senate action on Sunday denied Pritzker — who made securing a ban on certain semi-automatic guns and high-capacity ammunition magazines a reelection campaign pillar after the deadly mass shooting at Highland Park’s Fourth of July parade — a final legislative victory before he’s sworn in for a new term.

In a statement late Sunday as the Senate was returning from an abbreviated weekend break, Pritzker said a proposal Harmon filed earlier in the day “falls short” of meeting “the urgency of now.”

“Every time a weapon of war is used to inflict the maximum amount of damage in the shortest amount of time we mourn for the lives lost and communities shattered,” said Pritzker, who sat next to Welch on the House floor as the chamber approved its version early Friday. “Enough is enough.

“The people of this state deserve a real assault weapons ban, one that has a real accounting of the weapons currently in circulation and a real chance at ceasing the flow of more weapons of war immediately.”

Welch earlier issued a statement saying he would “not accept a watered-down version of legislation that falls unacceptably short of the comprehensive solutions that the people of this state deserve.”

In response, Harmon spokesman John Patterson said the two chambers “have shared goals” on the issues of banning so-called assault weapons and expanding abortion protections, another Democratic priority in the days before a new General Assembly is sworn in Wednesday.

The main differences between the House and Senate bills are really just a matter of degree. Under the House bill, all current owners of “assault weapons” would be required to register them with the Illinois State Police within 300 days of the law taking effect, as well as permanently modify, destroy, or dispose of any ammunition magazines that can accept more than 12 rounds of ammunition. The Senate version still bans the sale and manufacture of so-called assault weapons but does not require existing gun owners to register their firearms with the state police. It also modifies the House magazine ban by grandfathering in existing magazines while limiting the sale of magazines for long guns at 10 rounds and handgun magazines at 15 rounds, and allows for currently-possessed “large capacity” magazines to be used on private property, at gun ranges, and during competitive shooting events.

The House version, meanwhile, has now been amended to remove the language raising the age to obtain a FOID card from 18 to 21. That’s a good thing for young adults in Illinois, but none of the changes make the proposed legislation any more constitutional than it was in its original form. We’re still looking at a bill that would criminalize the sale of arms that are in common use for a variety of lawful purposes, and grandfathering in existing owners (as the Senate bill does) does nothing to change the fact that the measure would still infringe on the right of every other citizen to purchase and possess them.

Will Illinois Democrats smooth over their differences in time to pass their gun ban bill before the lame-duck session expires? My guess is that we’ll see some sort of agreement reached in time, but even if they can’t get it done before Wednesday morning they’re not going to simply give up for the year. The gun control lobby is pushing hard for blue states become more aggressive in their crackdown on the Second Amendment in the wake of the Bruen decision (as well as pending challenges to existing bans making their way up to SCOTUS), and with Illinois state government under the complete control of Democrats, the gun prohibitionists see the Land of Lincoln as fertile ground to grow their anti-2A ideology.. even if harvest time comes a little later than they were hoping.