CHICAGO – Illinois could ban assault weapons under a plan proposed Tuesday by Gov. Pat Quinn, but any gun control regulation would have to clear major hurdles even with a renewed nationwide debate.
The Chicago Democrat used his amendatory veto power to gut a bill related to ammunition sales and add language prohibiting the manufacture, delivery, sale and possession of semi-automatic assault weapons and attachments. Illinois lawmakers could accept or override the changes, or not call a vote at all.
The proposal — which specifically bans the AK-47, AR-15 and TEC-9 — was first reported by The Associated Press.
"It's very clear that these particular weapons are not designed to do anything but to have human targets," Quinn told reporters in Chicago.
The Colorado movie theater massacre has reignited debates about assault weapons and in recent days, a number of anti-violence advocates, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, have called for similar action in Chicago. Quinn recently signaled his support for a ban while noting the heroism shown by an Illinois man who was killed in the attack.
A handful of states have assault weapons bans, including New Jersey and Massachusetts. A federal ban expired in 2004 and attempts to revive it have been unsuccessful.
While Illinois is the only state without a concealed carry law, an assault weapons ban would face strong opposition from the gun lobby — that is, if it's called for a vote at all.
Quinn, who didn't work with the sponsor of the original bill, has had little success with amendatory vetoes. And other gun control measures have failed in the General Assembly and Cook County's assault weapons ban has undergone legal challenges. Earlier this year, the Illinois Supreme Court reversed lower-court rulings that found the ban constitutional, sending it back to trial court.
Quinn defended his tactic, saying the time for gun control is now. He cited the fatal shooting in Colorado and the 2008 shooting at Northern Illinois University that left five students dead. Quinn believes his latest plan was related to the original bill.
The bill's original sponsor, Republican state Sen. David Luechtefeld, called Quinn's plan politics as usual. Luechtefeld accused Quinn of using the Colorado shooting to make headlines.
"Politically, he wants to be shown as against assault weapons and it's totally political on his part," Luechtefeld said. "It's a way to get his name in the paper."
Luechtefeld's measure would have allowed Illinois residents to have ammunition purchased from in-state companies shipped to them. Currently, Illinois residents can only have ammunition shipped if it's bought out of state.
He added that he doesn't think his bill is controversial, and that Quinn's move kills it.
The governor has used amendatory vetoes more than a dozen times in the last year; amendments were approved twice.
In many cases, lawmakers didn't call a vote. House Speaker Mike Madigan has refused to do so in the past on the grounds that Quinn overstepped his constitutional authority. Also, the Illinois Supreme Court has said that an amendatory veto can't change the fundamental purpose of a bill.
Todd Vandermyde, an Illinois lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, said Quinn was going beyond his power as a governor. He criticized the bill as a publicity stunt and added that the proposal was too broad.
Still, gun-control advocates applauded the move.
"We have a national crisis on our hands. Chicago has a crisis on its hands," said Dan Gross, head of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. "We have to do everything we can do to prevent tragedy from happening."
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The bill is SB0681.