After the Jonylah Watkins funeral last month, and the recent death of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, debate over the proposed assault weapons ban in Illinois has legislators outside Chicago and those representing inner-city districts staunchly divided over this time-sensitive issue. While visiting Chicago area churches Saturday and Sunday, Gov. Quinn said, “We’ve got to show in Illinois that we understand the importance of what happened in Newtown as well as Colorado that these particular weapons are unacceptable.”
House Republican officials say lawmakers are opposed to the classification of certain hunting rifles as assault weapons. They do not want to pass an amendment with language that would penalize the sportsman.
According to committee records, Rep. Jim Sacia (R-Pecatonica) added, “I deer hunt with an M-1 rifle.”
Speaking in favor of the assault weapons ban, Rep. Edward Acevedo (D-Chicago) sponsors part of the legislation, which would ban rifles such as the M-1, AR-15 and the AK-47 along with certain types of add-ons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. He and his fellow Chicago lawmakers in Springfield want to widen the scope of gun control in Illinois because Chicago is suffering from an unprecedentedly high homicide rate.
According to Chicago Police, homicides went up 16 percent in 2012, and last year, police confiscated nearly 7,500 guns in the city. Of those, 37 percent were assault weapons – a significant number. Police testimony offered more numbers to Springfield lawmakers: 45 assault weapons were among the 1,100 guns confiscated so far this year, and since the federal ban was lifted in 2004, the city has seized a total of 2,678 assault weapons.
About 40 percent of all guns legally sold in the United States change hands without background checks ever taking place. However, Indiana and many other states may not be likely to close their gun show loopholes or pass assault weapons bans of their own anytime soon. According to the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, Illinois is one of only six states nationwide that require background checks on all firearms sold at gun shows — the others are New York, Rhode Island, Colorado, Oregon and California.
In California’s most violent city, Oakland, stores are prohibited from selling all types of guns, and there is an assault weapons ban throughout the entire state. According to Oakland police, a substantial number of these weapons are brought to Oakland illegally from neighboring states, like Nevada, that do not have a ban on assault weapons.
There is evidence that the nationwide assault weapons ban, which was authored by U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and was in effect from 1994 to 2004, reduced violent crime and homicides in Oakland: from 1997 through the year Feinstein’s law expired, Oakland averaged 87 homicides a year. Before the ban, Oakland had an average of more than a 110 homicides annually, and since the ban’s expiration, the city’s average is nearly 110 homicides per year again.
Bridget Gillum, a 39-year-old Oakland hairstylist, remembers being a high school student in the years before the ban.
“It was so bad in my neighborhood, my parents had me commute an hour to a better school district,” she said.
Now raising a 12-year old daughter of her own, the violence in her native city has forced her to make the same choices as her parents. The shooting in their part of East Oakland makes it too dangerous for her to feel comfortable sending her daughter to school there. Every morning, she drives her daughter to school in a safer city, which is just across the bay from San Francisco as well.
California State Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) says California gun regulations already include some of the nation’s toughest restrictions. Firearm manufacturers have been getting around the law by selling guns with conversion kits, which can be reloaded in seconds by using a simple button. California’s latest bill, like Illinois’, seeks to ban such devices and tools.
“Gun manufacturers have created this particular loophole,” said Yee. “I just think we’re trying to follow the spirit and intent of the assault weapon ban here in California by closing that particular loophole.” He announced the introduction of his new piece of legislation in a press release just four days after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn. last December.
Everett Fred Basham faces a dozen criminal charges, including ten felonies, which are related to an alleged threat he made against Yee’s life on Jan. 11. Details surrounding Basham’s actions are limited, but he is purported to have made the threat in protest to the senator’s attempt to crackdown on loopholes in state gun laws.
“He was going to stalk me, and then kill me,” recalled Yee.
According to court records, Basham pleaded not guilty and was denied bail.