Gun rights advocates say assault weapons ban is unconstitutional — local officials say it’s essential

Gun Rights

Opponents of a measure that would ban assault weapons and stop the sale of high-capacity magazines came to an Illinois House hearing on Tuesday equipped to fight for the constitutional rights of gun owners — while local law enforcement officials urged lawmakers to stem the flow of military-style weapons they say are ravaging the state.

The two sides delivered more than five hours of testimony before the Illinois House Judiciary Committee — the third hearing lawmakers held this month in advance of an assault weapons ban Democrats hope to pass in the January lame duck session. Gun safety advocates from Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America packed the committee hearing, often cheering for those advocating for the ban. But there was also applause following testimony from gun-rights lobbyists, who took up a large portion of the final hearing of the year.

“The reality is there is no answer. Both sides don’t really understand each other,” Ed Sullivan, a former state representative and lobbyist for the Illinois State Rifle Association, told lawmakers. “The gap is going to be tough to bridge.”

Sullivan also argued that new penalties for those caught with assault weapons and magazines would devastate Black and Brown communities.

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“The bill keeps alive systemic racism as it applies to the Second Amendment,” Sullivan said. “I can take my firearms, my mags, and go across the border. I have the means. What about the people that don’t? What about the people? You should just criminalize them?”

Todd Vandermyde, a retired lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, argued the new measure will not pass constitutional muster.

“We will see you in court. We will take that to court with four Supreme Court decisions behind us,” Vandermyde said. “Because I don’t think you’re asking the right question. The question should be how are you going to enforce this?”

Vandermyde said he also disagreed about the criminal penalties the bill carries, arguing it would punish law-abiding gun owners.

“No matter how many carry licenses I have in my pocket, it’s never enough,” Vandermyde said. “You can’t put us all in jail. Your new bail law just said you can’t do that. You will have civil disobedience where people are going to register things. … I think you’re going down the wrong road, to sit there and criminalize 2.5 million people in this state.”

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“I think you’re going down the wrong road, to sit there and criminalize 2.5 million people in this state,” Todd Vandermyde, retired lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, told lawmakers.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The measure would also raise the eligibility for a state firearm owner identification card for most Illinois residents to 21, which also prompted some opposition at Tuesday’s hearing. Glenn Sanders of the Illinois Federation for Outdoor Resources said taking away the ability to receive a FOID under age 21 would make hunting very difficult for many people in the state and said it would remove a motivational tool “to take kids on the straight and narrow.”

Earlier, Elena Gottreich, deputy mayor for public safety for the city of Chicago, testified that 1,025 assault weapons were seized in Chicago last year, with the Chicago Police Department on track to exceed that number. As of Tuesday, police had seized 1,156 assault weapons this year, she said.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart warned that the number of assault weapons and extended magazines used to make guns fully automatic are increasing every year and are being found “everywhere.”

“I’ve been sheriff now for 16 years. I was a prosecutor for many years as well. And I can honestly tell you in all my years of doing this, it’s never been this bad,” Dart said. “…Not only is it the amount of the weapons has exploded, but the lethality is absolutely stunning.”

Dart came equipped with “switches” that the sheriff’s police eviction unit had confiscated. The Chicago Sun-Times and WBEZ reported in October that more people in Chicago are possessing large-capacity magazines, along with “switches” that convert handguns into illegal machine guns that can fire 20 shots in about a second. The new measure would prevent future sales of ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds and tighten regulations to prohibit “rapid-fire devices” that turn firearms that fire one shot per trigger pull into fully automatic weapons.

“If you ever tried to witness someone shooting with one of these things, when they put it on fully automatic, the chances of them actually hitting the person they’re aiming is infinitesimal,” Dart said. “That’s not going to happen. What’s going to happen is innocent people all around are gonna get slaughtered.”

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