CHICAGO – Some of Illinois' top Democrats joined parents of Connecticut school shooting victims Sunday to call for a state ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines, a push made as lawmakers face a tight deadline on a contentious measure to legalize concealed carry.
Gov. Pat Quinn, Senate President John Cullerton and state Sen. Dan Kotowski argued the ban would limit the damage that assault weapons can cause, but recognized that it will be a tough vote in Springfield at a time when the concealed carry debate pits urban Democrats against their downstate counterparts.
Kotowski, of Park Ridge, introduced legislation Friday that would ban the sale, delivery and possession of magazines that accept more than 10 rounds and impose strict prison sentences. He said the idea is to focus on high-capacity magazines because they make assault weapons more lethal.
"It's a way to hold the gun industry accountable," he said. "It's about time the gun industry step up and take responsibility for the products that they create and the products they sell. There's a reason why these guns are more lethal than they ever have been. It's because there's absolutely no regulation on the production and distribution of ammunition they can cause. "
The bill is expected to come up for discussion in Springfield on Monday, when lawmakers will hear testimony from the parents of three children killed in the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
The parents spoke Sunday at a news conference in Chicago about their losses, each one's eyes filling with tears as they recalled their sons and how limiting ammunition could have saved lives. Authorities said that shooter Adam Lanza had several 30-round magazines and fired more than 150 shots.
"In an instant, my precious boy was gone," said Nicole Hockley, whose 6-year-old son, Dylan, was among the 20 students and six adults killed. "What happened in Newtown can happen anywhere."
Cullerton said a vote on the issue would be very close in the Senate, but the parents' testimony would help.
"I want these three parents come down to Springfield, Illinois, and I want them to make some of the senators very uncomfortable and that's what's going to make a difference," he said.
Kotowski's proposal says that the delivery or sale of high-capacity magazine could equal up to three years in prison.
While similar attempts failed earlier this year, Quinn said he wants to see the ban on his desk before the General Assembly's May 31 scheduled adjournment. Before then, lawmakers must also address other mountainous issues — including plans to address the pension crisis and the budget, as well as votes on same-sex marriage legislation and a gambling expansion.
Lawmakers also face a June 9 deadline to come up with a way to legalize concealed carry. A federal appeals court set the date after ruling that Illinois' ban on concealed weapons — the last one in the nation — was unconstitutional. It's been a highly contentious issue with charged hearings and fierce lobbying from the National Rifle Association and anti-violence advocates.
And movement on it has been slow: A proposal to, among other things, require special permission to carry a gun in Chicago was expected to come up for a vote last week, but the sponsor softened language in the bill after opposition from Republicans and the NRA.
Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat, said approving concealed carry in Illinois will be a matter of a few votes. He also issued a challenge to the NRA.
"I refuse to let one faction, the National Rifle Association, dictate a response that benefits their interests while silencing the voice of victims," Cullerton said.
Todd Vandermyde, Illinois lobbyist for the NRA, dismissed that. He's previously said that an ammunition ban treats law-abiding gun owners like criminals and previous failed attempts showed Illinois residents don't want it.
"It seems this would dovetail into the talks about concealed carry," he said of the effort by Quinn, Cullerton and Kotowski. "They don't like Illinois having to become a carry state and they want to restrict (gun owners). It seems to be another attack on that front."
Neither Quinn nor Cullerton would elaborate on how a high-capacity magazine ban would affect attempts for an assault weapons ban. Quinn failed at an attempt for the latter last year.
On Sunday, the Democratic governor said the ammunition ban was a priority.
"We're going to focus on this issue at this time," Quinn said. "If we can reduce the number of bullets that come from these deadly weapons to save lives, we owe it to all of our families and our children."
The bill is SB1002
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