Bill clears Senate, awaits House action on final day of lame duck session
By PETER HANCOCK
Capitol News Illinois
Negotiators in the Illinois House and Senate have reached agreement on a bill to ban the purchase, sale and manufacture of semi-automatic assault weapons and large-capacity magazines while still allowing people who already own such weapons to keep them.
The deal came together Monday as Gov. JB Pritzker, who campaigned on a pledge to pursue such a ban, was being inaugurated into his second term in office.
Only a day earlier, the House and Senate seemed to be far apart, both on the weapons ban and a bill expanding access to reproductive health services, two of the biggest items being considered in a lame duck session that will conclude Tuesday.
“I will fight for the needs of Illinoisans and I will not accept a watered-down version of legislation that falls unacceptably short of the comprehensive solutions that the people of this state deserve,” House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch (D-Hillside) said in a statement released Sunday afternoon.
But by Monday night, he, Pritzker and Senate President Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) announced that they were all in agreement on a final proposal.
One of the key sticking points concerned a requirement that people currently owning such weapons register them with the Illinois State Police. Those individuals would be required to disclose the make, model and serial number of the specified weapons to obtain a special endorsement on their Firearm Owners Identification, or FOID card. The House had included that in the bill it passed shortly after midnight Friday morning, but an early draft of a Senate plan reportedly proposed dropping it.
The final version of the bill, contained in a package of amendments to House Bill 5471, includes the requirement but extends the deadline for compliance to Jan. 1, 2024, instead of 180 days after the governor signs the bill into law, as the House had proposed.
The Senate language was unveiled during a committee hearing Monday morning, only a few hours before inauguration ceremonies for the governor and other constitutional officers were about to begin blocks away in a downtown Springfield convention center.
Other changes included a more up-to-date list of weapons that would fall within the banned category along with authority for the Illinois State Police to modify the list through administrative rules to capture new and copycat models as they come onto the market.
The Senate bill also clarifies that any device that makes a semi-automatic weapon fire more rapidly – whether it converts the weapon into a fully automatic one or merely increases the rate of fire – will be illegal. And it defines large-capacity magazines as those capable of holding more than 10 rounds for a long gun or 15 rounds for a handgun.
The Senate version also does not change the age limit to obtain a FOID card, meaning people between the ages of 18 and 21 will still be able to obtain one with the consent of a parent or guardian. The House had proposed eliminating that exception.
“It really is the House structure,” Harmon told reporters after the committee hearing. “We have been careful to be precise, that we are articulating the list of guns where an endorsement would require the make, model and serial number so that owners know exactly what they need to do.”
In an effort to ease concerns of hunters and sportsmen, the bill also contains a provision authorizing the Department of Natural Resources to adopt administrative rules exempting weapons used only for hunting that are expressly permitted under the Illinois Wildlife Code.
That, however, was not enough to quell the opposition of gun rights advocates who argued that the weapons to be banned are “commonly used” weapons in American society and thus, under standards of recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings, will likely be deemed unconstitutional.
“I think folks at home need to know, and folks here in the chamber, that many of the commonly used semi-automatic shotguns will still have to be registered as assault weapons,” Sen. Terri Bryant (R-Murphysboro) said during debate on the floor of the Senate. “So even though some may come off, we’re still going to have many commonly used shotguns that will be listed as assault weapons.”
The bill passed the Senate, 34-20, and was sent to the House, which is expected to vote on whether to concur with the Senate changes Tuesday.
The outcome of that vote, however, seemed a foregone conclusion when Harmon, Welch and Pritzker issued a joint statement Monday evening praising the bill’s passage.
“After continued negotiations between the leaders, stakeholders and advocates, we have reached a deal on one of the strongest assault weapons bans in the country,” they said. “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.”
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide, as well as hundreds of radio and TV stations. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.