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Illinois House passes bills banning certain semi-automatic weapons, expanding abortion protections

Elise Hauptmann, center, hugs her friend Amy Sabor as a group of activists and survivors board a bus on Jan. 5, 2023, in Highland Park for Springfield to lobby legislators to ban assault weapons and high-capacity gun magazines. (Stacey Wescott/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

With Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker seated in the front row of the chamber, the Illinois House early Friday approved a sweeping ban on high-powered firearms about two hours after voting to shore up the state’s already expansive protections for abortion rights.

Both measures were at the top of the agenda for the Democratic-controlled legislature, and now head to the Senate.

The House passed the abortion measure in a 67-41 party-line vote. The gun legislation, which bans certain semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, passed 64-43 with outgoing House Republican leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs the lone GOP lawmaker to vote yes.

The prospects for both measures remain uncertain in the Senate, where Democrats have been working on their own proposal on abortion rights in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Pritzker’s presence during the floor debate on the gun legislation — a rare occurrence — made clear how important the legislation is for him. If the Senate passes the bill he would be able to make good on a pledge made during his successful fall reelection campaign.

Leaving the House after the gun vote, Pritzker told reporters that his presence was meant to convey “that I’ve been engaged in this process all along, wanted to see it through to the end.”

He expressed confidence a version of the measure would reach his desk, saying “I know we’re going to get a bill.”

A spokesman for Senate President Don Harmon said the Oak Park Democrat and his caucus “look forward to reviewing” the House proposals.

“The Senate and House have shared goals on these issues,” Harmon spokesman John Patterson said.

The House vote on the firearm measure came hours after dozens of gun control advocates rallied at the Illinois Capitol on Thursday to support the sweeping legislation.

Supporters chanted “Pass the ban!” and “No more silence! End gun violence!” during the hourlong rally in the Capitol rotunda.

The measure was prompted by the mass shooting at Highland Park’s Fourth of July parade that left seven people dead and dozens more injured. State Rep. Bob Morgan, a Deerfield Democrat who marched in the parade with his family, has been leading negotiations in the House.

Late Thursday afternoon, House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch introduced an amended proposal that eliminated a previous provision that would have taken away the ability for most people under age 21 to receive a firearm owner’s identification card. Welch’s version also raised the maximum magazine capacity to 12 from 10.

Welch’s amended bill passed out of the House Executive Committee by a 9-5 vote along party lines.

Ed Sullivan, a contract lobbyist for the Illinois State Rifle Association, said Democrats hadn’t provided enough time to go through the latest version of the bill, which he called “less constitutional” than the original.

Introducing the bill on the House floor, Welch sought to assuage fears the measure would lead to banned guns being confiscated from their owners.

“If this bill were to become law, there will be no removal of these weapons from people who already own them,” said Welch, a Democrat from Hillside. “It’s important to highlight that. We are not taking any guns away from lawful gun owners.”

“Now we know that this topic is contentious. We also may not all agree on the solutions being presented,” he also said. “But what we do know, what we do know, is that gun violence is impacting communities in every single corner of this state.”

The legislation would extend the use of firearm restraining orders from six months to a year and ban the use of “switches” that allow guns to be converted from semi-automatic use — when the trigger must be pulled for each bullet to be fired — to automatic use — when one trigger pull can fire multiple bullets.

A federal ban exists on such devices but law enforcement officials argue that federal prosecutors don’t always take up such cases and attacking the issue through county prosecutors would provide another option.

The measure would also give owners of guns that have been designated as assault weapons by the legislature about a year to register them with authorities.

Other than Durkin, Republicans were united in opposition to the measure. State Rep. Tony McCombie, a Savanna Republican who will be taking over as House Republican leader next week, said the bill will not stop gun violence in Illinois.

“This bill does not address the real issues and the solutions to those issues,” McCombie said. “It’s going to make it harder for law enforcement to do their job.”

“You’re going after my Second Amendment rights,” said Republican state Rep. Dan Caulkins of Decatur, who complained that the legislation, if passed, wouldn’t allow him to carry a 15-round magazine, an accessory that is very common for semi-automatic handguns.

“Why do you need a 15-round magazine?” Morgan asked.

Caulkins, echoing a common refrain from Republicans, said that “there is going to be no way to enforce” the legislation, “and all it’s going to do is create felons out of law-abiding citizens.”

Under Welch’s proposal, anyone who violates the assault weapon ban can face two to 10 years in prison for a first offense. And anyone who violates the high-capacity magazine provision can face a $1,000 fine for the first offense.

Morgan said some of those penalties were toned down in the latest version of the bill “to reflect a lot of the concerns we heard from law-abiding gun owners to make sure that we’re not criminalizing anybody and making sure (we’re) giving people an opportunity to stay within the law the way they do today with FOID cards.”

The abortion rights measure from Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a Chicago Democrat, would allow advanced practice registered nurses and physicians assistants to perform abortion procedures that don’t require general anesthesia. The measure also seeks to prevent health care providers from losing their Illinois licenses solely because they’ve had their license revoked in another state for performing a procedure that’s legal in Illinois.

Cassidy said the plan will “protect patients and providers from undue interference from hostile states” that have adopted new restrictions after the June Supreme Court ruling and “shore up” the right to privacy the high court left diminished at the federal level.

The measure also offers protections for providers of gender-affirming health care services, which also are seeing new restrictions in other states.

Rep. Avery Bourne, a Republican from downstate Morrisonville, argued that the legislation “is an expansion that goes beyond what most Illinoisans think is appropriate.”

The General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn on Tuesday with a new legislature being seated the next day.


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