Faith leaders urge passage of Illinois assault weapons ban ahead of vote

Gun Rights

Faith leaders from Chicago to Highland Park are calling on state lawmakers to pass a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

Seventy-five pastors, rabbis and imams sent a letter to the Illinois legislature urging it to pass the the Protect Illinois Communities Act during its five-day lame-duck session, which starts Wednesday.

House Bill 5855 would ban the sale of assault weapons, cap magazines at 10 rounds, raise the minimum age to buy a gun from 18 to 21 and require current assault weapon owners to register with the state.

Several dozen of those faith leaders called for swift action Wednesday from the altar of Good Hope Free Will Baptist Church, three blocks from where a mass shooting injured 14 people at a vigil in East Garfield Park on Halloween.

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“I came down here today because — when it comes to preventing violence, when it comes to saving lives — there’s no boundaries,” said Rabbi Ike Serrota.

Serrota is the rabbi of Lakeside Congregation of Reform Judaism in Highland Park, the north suburb rocked by one of the worst mass shootings with seven dead and nearly 50 people wounded at its July 4 parade last year.

The Rev. Ira Acree of Greater St. John Bible Church in Austin said he was grateful that the diverse group of pastors came together to address gun violence.

“All of these communities come in unity to say no to assault weapons and high-capacity magazines,” Acree said. “Illinois is a world-class state. And legislators must set a national standard by establishing a statewide ban on all combat weapons of destruction.”

The faith leaders urged lawmakers to overcome their fear of the National Rifle Association and pass the bill.

“Legislators who fail to vote for this ban must be seen, and they must be called out,” said the Rev. Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Church in Chicago. “They are co-conspirators to the bloodshed and the weapons of war in our state.”

Assault weapons must be outlawed because they serve no purpose other than to kill people, the faith leaders said in letter to lawmakers sent Wednesday.

“We respect the rights of law-abiding responsible gun owners, but these kinds of weapons don’t belong in Illinois,” they said in the letter. “When guns fall into the wrong hands they don’t just end a life. They destroy the fiber of an entire community.”

Wednesday’s news conference and the letter were sponsored by Protect Illinois Communities, a nonprofit created to push for the passage of the bill.

Legislators held a hearing on the bill in mid-December, when critics questioned its cost and constitutionality and supporters recounted the trauma of the year’s mass shootings.

There are enough Democrats in both state chambers to pass the bill without Republican support, but conservative, downstate Democrats have been wary of supporting similar bills in the past.

In 2018, after the Parkland, Florida, school shooting that killed 17 people, Illinois tried to increase the age minimum to buy an assault weapon to 21. But the bill was vetoed by then-Gov. Bruce Rauner, who had called for the bill to expand the purchase wait period for all guns to 72 hours and to institute a death penalty for cop killers.

In 2005, after a federal ban on assault weapons ended a year earlier, state Rep. Edward Acevedo, D-Chicago, sponsored a bill to ban semiautomatic assault weapons, assault weapon attachments, .50-caliber rifles and cap magazines at 10 rounds, similar to this year’s bill. But the bill failed after getting only 57 of the 60 votes needed.

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