By RICK HAYES
MT. VERNON — —
While state lawmakers have advanced legislation that would restrict semiautomatic weapons and high-capacity magazines, some local business owners believe the action will have little impact on national gun laws.
“We have a Bill of Rights and the Second Amendment is the most important amendment and it protects the rest of them,” said Steve Warren, co-owner of A&S Gunsmithing in Mt. Vernon. “If the government says we don’t need these semiautomatic rifles, it’s not a bill of needs, it’s a bill of rights in our constitution.”
Warren added, “We have a NFA (National Firearms Act) of 1937 and all the assault weapons are included in that law. The Department of Defense has determined that an assault weapon is a select fire fully-automatic machine gun. Also, the semiautomatic rifle has been around since 1900 so they’ve been legal for 110 years. Machine guns were legal until 1934.”
Illinois Senate Democrats advanced legislation through committee earlier this week that would restrict semiautomatic weapons and high-capacity magazines. One measure would ban the possession, delivery, sale and transfer of semiautomatic handguns and rifles. People who currently own such weapons could keep them but would have to register them. The bill would allow semiautomatic weapons to be used at shooting ranges, but those facilities would be regulated.
The other bill would limit ammunition magazines to 10 or fewer rounds.
Those pushing for enhanced regulations say stricter rules are needed in the wake of a string of high-profile mass shootings — most recently the deadly shooting in Newton, Conn., where 20 first-graders and six educators were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Amid the developments, the Illinois State Rifle Association issued an “urgent alert” to its members warning them that Democratic legislators were trying to push through last-minute anti-gun legislation.
“There would be no exemptions and no grandfathering,” the group stated in its alert. “You would have a very short window to turn in your guns to the state police and avoid prosecution.”
Warren, a Second Amendment activist, said state restrictions would not reduce the number of shooting incidents.
“Anytime you have a gun free zone, which the schools are, you have a shooting gallery for crazy people,” Warren said. “You can’t think about ‘It didn’t use to happen.’ In the 40’s, someone threw a bomb at a school in Michigan and killed 40 kids. It’s not a new thing. These people are crazy, and you can’t fix crazy.”
John Lewis, a retired Illinois State Police trooper, said he worked 34 cases with crime scene investigators, noting that in the majority of those cases, the guns used in the crimes had been stolen.
“They [the criminals] usually have criminal records and can’t buy guns anyway. They’re stealing them,” Lewis said. “The two cities with the toughest anti-gun laws, Washington, D.C., and Chicago, also have the highest crime rates. They [legislators] tried to limit handguns and the Supreme Court shot it down.”
During his ISP career, Lewis said he was involved in over 300 death investigations — and only one that included an assault weapon — which was ruled a homicide.
Lewis said the only answer is to penalize criminals who decide to insert a weapon within their criminal act.
“When they start slapping them with a 30- or 40-year sentence, they make start thinking twice. There really aren’t stiff penalties in place now. Gun laws are only a harassment for law-abiding citizens,” Lewis said. “All of their [legislators’] efforts at best are misguided.”
Both bills have passed through a Senate committee. The Senate returned to work Wednesday. The House will return Monday. Both legislatives bodies are working against a Jan. 9 deadline when the state’s new General Assembly will be sworn-in.