Illinois House

Battle lines drawn in first House gun debate

by Ray Long and Rafael Guerrero, Chicago Tribune  |  published on February 21, 2013

The Illinois House opened up the spring session’s first major debate between gun rights and gun control forces Tuesday, the two sides wrangling over how to balance a federal court decision that calls for making guns easier to carry in public along with addressing the rising violence on Chicago’s streets.

Searing testimony ranged from a haunting plea for stronger background checks delivered by a mother whose child was killed five years ago in the mass shooting at Northern Illinois University to the staunch demand to pass concealed weapons legislation.

Gun control advocates have urged strong restrictions throughout the country, including in Illinois, given the tragic deaths of children in Newtown, Conn., and the shooting of high school band majorette Hadiya Pendleton a mile from President Barack Obama’s Chicago home. Last week, Obama stood on the South Side with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Pat Quinn in pressing for a crackdown on gun violence.

House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, called for Tuesday’s hearing and another Friday in Chicago to help shape the parameters of a debate that is sharply divided by lawmakers who want Illinoisans to be able to carry concealed weapons, others who don’t and some seeking compromise.

Pressure for action on gun laws is coming to a head because a federal appeals court in December gave legislators six months to draft a concealed weapons law. The deadline is in early June. Attorney General Lisa Madigan has asked for a rehearing from the full U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, raising the possibility that the date could be delayed or overturned.

Democratic Rep. Brandon Phelps of Harrisburg in far southern Illinois urged lawmakers to enact legislation that would put some restrictions on carrying concealed weapons, such as requiring firearms training and banning the guns from being carried in places like bars, stadiums, schools and universities.

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