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Is Illinois gun grab timed with fiscal ruin a coincidence?

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Call me paranoid, but I don't think it's happenstance that the General Assembly's attempt at a major gun grab is coming at the same time that it's driving us full speed into unfixable fiscal ruin.

After all, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean you're not being followed.

As a gun owner, my jaw hit the floor as I read about the details of a bill being sneaked through the House by eight Democratic state representatives aimed at significantly curtailing gun rights. It's one of three - products of Chicago Democratic legislators - aimed at gun ownership.

House Bill 1294 would make it illegal to buy, sell or own a "semiautomatic assault weapon" or any parts thereof (you can read it here). The public tends to not have an idea of what such a weapon is, thanks to decades of misinformation (unfortunately aided by sloppy journalism) from people who have never seen a gun, much less handled one.

All the public knows is that "semiautomatic assault weapon" sounds menacing, which is precisely the idea. Not to regurgitate the bill's specifics, but it makes a whole bunch of guns illegal because they have folding stocks, or magazines, or hand guards, or anything that makes the gun look mean.

(I can't wait for the bill making it illegal to own a car with a spoiler because it might lead to drag racing).

That bill, and a sister bill, House Bill 1599 (read it here), also re-classify a number of shotguns and handguns as "assault weapons" by the same arbitrary standards. House Bill 1599 has also cleared committee and is up for a vote.

A third bill, House Bill 1855 (read it here), would create penalties for gun theft - not for the thieves, but for the owners if they fail to report a stolen gun within 72 hours. As our outdoors columnist Steve Sarley wrote last week, you get robbed or burglarized and you become the suspect because you might have sold the gun instead. This bill has cleared committee as well, but its House vote has been postponed.

My feelings on these bills should be obvious, and I make no apologies - it's the Second Amendment that has protected my First Amendment right to a free press for two centuries. I prefer to call it a pro-Constitution bias.

But while we in Illinois are no strangers to nanny-state legislation - try going to the hardware store today to buy heavy-duty drain cleaner if you don't believe me - the timing of these bills is bugging me almost as much as their content.

Our state is in very dire economic straits - its pension systems are in the red to the tune of $86 billion, and it will end this fiscal year June 30 with $9.2 billion in unpaid bills. An alarming Civic Federation of Chicago report released Monday concluded that the bill backlog could quadruple to $34.8 billion - almost as much as our entire present General Fund - in only five years. Democratic legislators in a lame-duck session last year raised our income taxes 67 percent ("temporarily", of course) to deal with the bills, but that revenue got swallowed by the pension system.

Our local lawmakers watched with frustration last Wednesday as Gov. Pat Quinn failed to acknowledge the state's sinking financial ship, and instead said everything was on the mend as he laid out plans for tax breaks and more spending. He will address next year's budget in his budget address Feb. 22, but there is not a lot of confidence that Quinn will present any meaningful plan to begin tackling the problem.

Barring deep and sweeping budget cuts, which our lawmakers refuse to do, the only way our of this mess is significant tax increases - the "temporary" tax increase becoming permanent could be just the start of it. And if Quinn's idea to shift the burden of teacher pensions to local school districts becomes a reality, we can expect a big increase to our property tax bills, which keep going up while our home values decrease.

It's a nightmare scenario, but a plausible one, of state and local taxation that would make King George III look like a Libertarian by comparison.

And it's against this backdrop that some legislators are planning a gun grab.

It may be coincidence, which is quite possible given the never-ending stream of womb-to-tomb legislation streaming through Springfield. But then again, what if it's not? I'll let you decide.

Votes on the gun bills could be coming up quick, so be sure to contact your local legislators if they concern you. You can find contact information for our three representatives - Jack Franks, Mike Tryon and Kent Gaffney - here.

Senior Writer Kevin Craver can be reached at kcraver@shawmedia.com.

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