Illinois Doesn’t Ban Assault Rifles. A Petition Demanding It Gains Rapid Support

The Illinois State Police have defended their issuing a firearm owners identification, or FOID, card to the man who allegedly fatally shot seven people with a legally-obtained rifle at Highland Park’s Independence Day parade Monday, despite the Highland Park police filing a “clear and present danger” report about a 2019 incident in which Robert Crimo III reportedly threatened to kill members of his family.

State police boiled it down to matters of timing and threshold: the clear and present danger notice was filed before Crimo had filled out a FOID application, there was no felony on record, Crimo hadn’t been admitted to a mental health facility, and his dad had signed off on the application given that Crimo wasn’t yet 21 years old.

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But Republican nominee for governor, State Sen. Darren Bailey of Xenia, said the buck stop up top, with Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

“The Firearms Restraining Act would have prevented the tragedy on the Fourth, but you buried it. You left it moldering in some bureaucratic basement somewhere. Your watch governor. It’s not enough to pass laws. You have to do the hard work to ensure that the laws do what they were intended to do,” Bailey said at a Thursday press conference in Springfield.

Bailey was referencing what’s colloquially known as the state’s red flag law, in which family members can petition the courts to temporarily remove guns from someone who is dangerous.

Law enforcement also has that ability.

WTTW News has previously reported on how relatively rare the red flag law has been used, though a new law signed by Pritzker expands the act and puts money toward spreading public awareness about it.

Bailey voted against that that law, and told KFVS in June that he is opposed to red flag laws.

Pritzker’s campaign calls Bailey’s position on guns extreme and points out that the campaign has raised money with gun raffles, including a rifle similar to the one used in the Highland Park shooting.

Asked about it Thursday, Bailey did not say whether he would hold such a raffle now, but said he was in compliance with the law and most people buy guns for self-defense.

Bailey clinched the GOP nomination for governor last week.

Given the Highland Park shooting and spates of violence in the city, Bailey on Thursday called for a special session of the legislature to address what he says is “mayhem in our streets.”
“We must do whatever it takes to address the breakdown in mental health, particularly among isolated young men, which was made worse during Pritzker’s (COVID) lockdowns,” Bailey said.

Like every Republican legislator, who opposed the state’s current spending plan for a variety of reasons and who were largely shut out of negotiations, Bailey voted against the current state budget that increases funding for anti-violence and mental health programs.

He said Illinois doesn’t need more gun laws. He said the state needs to enforce the current ones, and to convene mental health professionals to address issues like long wait times to access care, a shortage of psychiatrists and “burdensome” paperwork.

But after the July Fourth weekend violence, various organizations are calling for Illinois to further restrict and track guns.

The Illinois Latino Agenda coalition is calling for three immediate actions: an assault weapons registry, mandatory fingerprinting for all FOID applications (attempts to make that law failed in Springfield in 2021), and to ban assault-style weapons.

The final ask is top on the agenda for the Gun Violence Prevention PAC.

“We need to regulate weapons of war,” GPAC Director Kathleen Sances said. “The shooter Monday had a M&P 15, a Smith and Wesson assault rifle. M&P – military and police…I don’t understand why a civilian, why anybody, needs a weapon with that kind of power.”

State Rep. Maura Hischauer, D-Batavia, is sponsor of a bill, House Bill 5522, that would do ban military-grade weapons and high-capacity magazine cartridges. 

Despite Democrats holding super majorities in the General Assembly and controlling the governor’s office, the measures did not advance.

“The session was fast and furious in Springfield. It was a shortened session. The bill did go to the Judiciary Criminal committee, and into a subcommittee. And there simply wasn’t time to tackle it,” said Hirschauer, a freshman legislator who had previously been a gun control advocate and helped to lead Kane County’s Moms Demand Action group.

Subcommittees are often where, try as the sponsor might to move them, bills are sent to die or at least to be put on the backburner.

Hirschauer says she thinks of preventing gun violence like a jigsaw puzzle, and that lawmakers have recently been putting their attention toward pieces like anti-violence programs; in 2021 a measure also passed that would incentivize FOID and concealed carry applicants to share their fingerprints by promising speedier processing.

“The assault weapons ban happens to be a pretty good size puzzle piece that needed a jump start,” Hirschauer said. “And I hate that we live like this, but tragedies capture the attention of the public.”

That’s certainly the case, to the point that Hirschauer said gives her goosebumps.

On Thursday morning, someone posting on as Scott Stevens wrote that he was with his wife and children at Monday’s parade in Highland Park when his family suddenly heard gunshots and ran.

“My daughter was screaming hysterically ‘what’s happening! Why is this happening!” as I cajoled her to keep running. We barely understood what was happening. I thought there had to be multiple shooters, the gunshots just kept going and going and there were already so many police there,” Stevens wrote. “We only later learned that a young man with a semi-automatic rifle was perched on top of a building and fired off more than 80 rounds in to the crowd.  Despite the huge police presence already there, no one could do anything to stop him. This isn’t freedom. No one should be afraid to take their kids to a parade.”

Within 13 hours, as of about 9 p.m. Thursday, his petition calling on legislators to pass Hirschauer’s proposal and for Pritzker to sign it into law, had amassed more than 26,600 signatures.

GPAC’s Sances said similar measures have been proposed in Springfield for years, but none ever progressed.

“Up until this point, we have felt like they’re not politically viable. So, that’s why they haven’t passed. If they were politically viable, they’d go up on the board and they’d be signed,” Sances said. “I just think that the time has to be right, and I hope the time is right now.”

Sances said she believes the Highland Park shooting – as well as the gun violence she said can’t be ignored in communities throughout Illinois – may mean the time is right now.

“But I hope people don’t forget. And so, I think it’s our job, for our movement … to make sure that we don’t stop talking about this,” she said, and to demand that legislators “take action as soon as they can. They have an upcoming special session. It’s dedicated to choice – I think that’s great. But they can do two things at once. I hope they take this up.” 

There is no word on any special session in the immediate future.

Certainly, political realities mean Bailey’s call for one won’t lead anywhere.

After the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe, Pritzker said he’d call a special session this month to pass legislation such as protection for abortion providers.

But this week he and the legislative leaders announced that the session has been delayed, with no word of when it will happen.

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky

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