ILLINOIS (WCIA) -- Democrats are escalating their calls for a series new statewide gun control measures in the wake of last week's mass school shooting in Florida, including bans on assault weapons, "ghost guns" and bump stocks, a mandatory license for gun dealers, and a new move to grant courts power to seize weapons from someone flagged as a danger to themselves or others.
"Do we have to wait until a Parkland happens in Illinois for us to take action or for us to take ownership of it," Senator Julie Morrison (D-Deerfield) asked. "There is no reason for anyone to have an assault weapon. There just isn’t. It’s a military grade gun. It is not used for protection. It is not used for hunting. We need to ban those and let communities start piece-by-piece doing that until the federal government to figure out how they’re going to do it at the national level."
Former NRA lobbyist Todd Vandermyde, who now represents gun dealers, opposes a ban on assault weapons and says he uses an AR-15 to hunt deer, coyotes and prairie dogs.
"I hope he enjoys eating that meat when it's all full of bullet holes," heckled state representative Marty Moylan, a Democrat from the Chicago suburbs. Moylan previously proposed a ban on assault weapons in the House, but it fell flat.
"I think the problem you have is you have people who know absolutely nothing about firearms continuing to trying to write firearms policy in the state and they don’t know what they’re talking about," Vandermyde replied.
"It's not 'assault weapons,'" according to Vandermyde. "That's a misnomer. It's a name that was coined by the anti-gun groups who try to equate modern semi-automatic rifles with machine guns. They're not."
While gun rights groups and gun control activists may quibble about the label, the courts will review the letter of the law before upholding or rejecting any legal challenges to new regulations.
"An assault weapon has a very specific definition," Senator Morrison explained.
Morrison's Senate district overlaps with Highland Park, a northern Chicago suburb that passed a ban on assault weapons in 2015 and successfully beat back a legal challenge by the National Rifle Association in federal court. Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering is running in the Democratic primary for Attorney General with gun control as a key plank in her campaign message.
"AR-15s have no business being in the hands of regular folks," Rotering said in an interview with WCIA on Monday. "They are weapons of war. They need to be treated as such."
Rotering says the Illinois General Assembly should use the specific language in the Highland Park ordinance as a template to pass a statewide ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
"It has already been deemed constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court," Rotering said.
The High Court refused to consider the controversial case in 2015, effectively allowing the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals decision which upheld the ban to stand in place. The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals also allowed a similar measure to stand in Maryland in 2017. Conservative critics argue the lower court rulings contradict a landmark 2008 Supreme Court case of District of Columbia vs. Heller, in which the court ruled 5 to 4 against a Washington, D.C., ban on handguns.
Senator Morrison's bill would allow and encourage other towns or cities in Illinois to pass bans on assault weapons.
"This is language that has met Constitutional muster," she said. "It has been challenged by the NRA. It has been upheld. This is model language."
Rep. Moylan also filed a bill to ban "ghost guns," a common term among firearms enthusiasts for a homemade kit or device, often made from a metal or plastic frame, that can be constructed into an operational weapon using additional parts often available for sale on the internet.
"This bill is specific," Moylan said in a phone interview Tuesday night. "It would prohibit buying parts from the internet to manufacture them in your home so you can build [a gun] without any serial numbers."
Vandermyde acknowledges "ghost guns" can be difficult for law enforcement to trace, but argues they should not be a priority for regulation because the law already prohibits the sale, trade or transfer of any "ghost gun." Once the weapon is made, it cannot legally change hands.
"The President of the United States came out against the bump stocks today," Moylan gloated, signaling a nudge from President Trump could bring him one step closer to a legislative victory. His bill to ban bump stocks, trigger modifications and gat cranks lacked enough support to pass the House last fall in the wake of the Las Vegas massacre.
To some critics, Moylan's new bill remains too broad and could be in danger of being passed over in lieu of Senator Morrison's more narrowly focused bump stock ban. Morrison's bill is a near match to one filed by Rep. Barb Wheeler (R-Crystal Lake) last fall, and it has already picked up key Senate co-sponsors Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) and Chris Nybo (R-Lombard).
"[Moylan's] bill would affect all the gunsmithing that goes on at every gun shop in the country," Vandermyde said. "It would also affect any guys that want to work on their own firearms because anything that makes the guns fire faster, so if you do an action job, if you lighten the trigger, if you change the springs, if you put a compensator on, anything that makes that firearm function smoother or faster would become illegal. They’re overreaching."
Vandermyde would not say if he would support a strict ban on bump stocks, but did offer to "talk to [lawmakers] discussing the issues. Certainly, if they’re going to write stuff affecting the average gun owner working on their firearm or our gunsmiths in our gun shops working on firearms for the average consumer, we’ll be opposed to any of that."
"SEIZE THE GUY'S GUNS"
Morrison filed a separate bill in the Senate last month that would create a new law allowing a family member or police officer to file a petition with a judge seeking a "lethal order of protection" against a person suspected of posing an "immediate and present danger of causing personal injury to himself, herself or another" with a firearm.
"I had a bill that was similar to that," Moylan said.
"It's just like an order of protection," Moylan said. "Everyone doesn't just get an order of protection. You have to go before a judge. My bill had you go before the judge so you could seize the guy's guns."
When considering complaints, the judge could grant the court order if there is evidence of any recent threat of violence, reckless display of a firearm, a pattern of violent acts or violent threats, attempted use of physical force, any prior arrest for a felony offense, evidence of alcohol or drug abuse, or recent acquisition of firearms or ammunition.
Under the current draft of the bill, a judge's signature granting the protection order would require the citizen to surrender their Firearm Owner's Identification Card and their firearms to law enforcement. The law also allows police to keep any weapons they collect that go unclaimed after the expiration of the court order.
Senator Morrison could not explain specifically what evidence a judge would need before revoking someone's FOID card and firearms.
"At this point, the judge would have the discretion," Morrison said. "We rely on a judicial system to do this anyway, to make those judgment calls on sort of an emergency basis, to listen to both sides, to have both petitioner and the person being questioned present. Law enforcement also is able to bring that petition forward. This might be a way to get some help to that person who is troubled and or remove the weapons that could cause such damage as we saw in Florida."
The bill states the burden of proof is a mere "preponderance of the evidence," a threshold Vandermyde finds troubling and unconstitutional.
"There is no due process in here," he said. "Basically, someone who doesn’t like your Facebook postings can go to court, they get to use hearsay evidence without any rebuttal, without you getting a chance to defend yourself, without any hearing, without any due process on your side. You don’t get to have an attorney there, nobody gets to represent the gun owners side. It can be your mother-in-law that doesn’t like the fact that there are guns in the home with her grandchildren."
Vandermyde also argues this proposal overlaps another state law already on the books that allows state police to seize firearms from individuals who pose a "clear and present danger" of bodily harm against themselves or another person.
"In most criminal proceedings, you are at least afforded bond before they do anything when the charges are first read," he said. "They are saying that their side prevails instantaneously no matter what on the front end and then you have to fight to prove your innocence on the back end. If someone is doing this in a malicious way, such as a custody battle or something like that, you are out $5,000 or $10,000 trying to defend yourself after the fact."
Morrison says the tragedy in Parkland may provide enough focus to pass the bill into law.
"I think there is a very good chance [the bill passes] at this point," Morrison said. "Unfortunately, every time we have a situation like in Florida arise, it gets dialed back up. It’s time. You know? It is time for Illinois to take some action instead of sitting back. This is a proactive way that we can get in front of another calamity."
As a sponsor of several gun control measures, Morrison is acutely aware of the hurdles she faces before delivering this legislation to the governor's desk.
"I don't think gun control is just a Democrat or Republican thing," she said. "Downstate Illinois looks at things differently than the city of Chicago. There are people who are very concerned about this being a slippery slope so I think that’s been one of the reasons we’ve had trouble."
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