Illinois House advances assault weapons ban, Senate will review

By Peter Hancock 
Capitol News Illinois

House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch (standing) and Gov. JB Pritzker, both Democrats, are pictured on the Illinois House floor during debate on a bill to ban several high-powered weapons. (

SPRINGFIELD – A bill that would ban the sale and manufacture of assault weapons in Illinois advanced out of the state House on Thursday and now awaits action in the Senate.

The bill was prompted in large part by the July 4 mass shooting in Highland Park during an Independence Day parade which left seven people dead and dozens more injured or traumatized.

Among those who traveled directly from Highland Park was Ashbey Beasley, who  told a House committee Thursday that her 6-year-old son was traumatized by witnessing the parade shooting and is now undergoing therapy.

“I don’t believe in stripping things away from people,” Beasley said, noting that she holds a Firearm Owner Identification card. “But I do know what it feels like to run away from an AR-15. I do know what it’s like to run into a crowd of people running from an AR-15.”

The bill was the subject of extensive committee hearings in December and negotiations over details of the measure continued until right before its passage in the House. It will still need approval in the Senate and from Gov. JB Pritzker to become law.

Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, issued a statement Friday morning saying senators are giving both the assault weapons ban and another House-approved abortion-related bill “extensive review and careful evaluation” over the weekend, as the Senate leaves Springfield until Sunday evening.

While changes to the legislation are possible, under the version passed by the House it would become illegal for anyone other than certain law enforcement officers, members of the U.S. military or the Illinois National Guard to knowingly manufacture, deliver, sell or purchase an assault weapon, assault weapon attachment, .50 caliber rifle or .50 caliber cartridge beginning 300 days after Pritzker’s signature on the measure.

However, firearms used for hunting that are explicitly allowed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources would not fall under the ban.

The bill provides a long list of specific weapons that would qualify as assault weapons, based largely on the federal assault weapons ban that was in effect from 1994 until 2014.

“These are weapons that belong on a battlefield, not at parades, or parks, or schools or churches,” House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, a chief sponsor of the bill, told his colleagues during a hearing Thursday.

State Senate President Don Harmon

The bill would also ban large-capacity magazines capable of holding more than 12 rounds of ammunition. And it would ban assault weapon attachments, or devices that make other guns resemble assault weapons, as well as “switches”  — devices that increase a semi-automatic weapon’s rate of fire, effectively turning them into fully automatic weapons.

People who already own a weapon that would be banned under the bill would be allowed to keep them, but they would be required to file an affidavit with the Illinois State Police within 180 days after the bill becomes law, providing the weapon’s serial number in order to receive a special endorsement on their Firearm Owner’s Identification card.

Also beginning 300 days after becoming law, it would be illegal for anyone who owns such a weapon to sell or transfer it to anyone other than an heir, an out-of-state resident or a federally licensed firearms dealer. They would also be required to notify state police within 10 days of that sale or gift.

One of the last-minute changes made to the bill was a provision that would allow Illinois gun manufacturers to continue producing the weapons but would limit their sales to only law enforcement or out-of-state purchasers in jurisdictions where the weapons are still permitted.

The final version of the measure was stripped of provisions that would have prohibited individuals between ages 18 and 21 from purchasing a firearm, even with a parent’s consent. The latest version also removed a provision requiring hunters younger than 21 to be under the supervision of someone over 21 with a valid FOID card. That means if the bill becomes law, those individuals will have the same rights and protections they have under current law.

“We talked a lot about that within our caucus, with negotiations,” Rep. Bob Morgan, D-Deerfield, the bill’s chief sponsor in the House, told reporters Thursday. “We heard a lot of feedback about the under-21 (issue). And what we heard most commonly was a lot of concerns with regards to hunting. That was a really important element.”

Even those changes, however, were not enough to satisfy ardent gun rights advocates who argued that the measure would still violate the Second Amendment’s guarantee of the right to keep and bear arms.

“Part of me wants you to pass this bill,” Illinois State Rifle Association lobbyist Ed Sullivan told the committee. “From what I read, it’s less constitutional than it was before. Takes away more rights than it did before. Makes it easier to strike down.”

Sullivan argued that many of the weapons listed in the bill as assault weapons are commonly used by hunters and sportsmen, a fact that he said would make the ban vulnerable to being overturned under recent U.S. Supreme Court standards.

Still, the bill passed out of the committee on a 9-4 vote, sending it to the House floor for a debate that lasted nearly two hours, with supporters arguing it would reduce gun-related deaths in Illinois and opponents arguing it would have little or no effect and would likely be ruled unconstitutional.

The final vote in the House, taken shortly after midnight Friday morning, was 64-43. Only one Republican, outgoing Minority Leader Jim Durkin, of Western Springs, voted in favor of the bill. Four Democrats voted no and four more were listed as absent or not voting.

In an unusual move, Pritzker sat in the House chamber throughout the debate, at a House member’s desk next to Welch. After the vote, he issued a statement saying he looked forward to working with the Senate to pass the bill.

The language of the bill was inserted as an amendment to a bill, Senate Bill 2226, that had already passed the Senate, one dealing with amusement ride safety. That means the Senate only needs to vote on whether to concur with the changes made by the House.