Thursday, April 17, 2008

Gun bill rejection is rural Illinois' annual "forget you" to Chicago

Every year for most of the nearly 20 years that Richard M. Daley has been mayor, he has pushed his people who work at the Statehouse in Springfield to get the Illinois General Assembly to approve a statewide ban on handguns similar to what is already THE LAW in Chicago.

The measures always get through legislative committees, where Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan – in keeping with his unofficial role of keeping the Legislature in line with Chicago’s desires – uses his pull to ensure that the issue gets a hearing.

THEN, THE ILLINOIS House of Representatives engages in a rare act of bipartisanship as rural and suburban lawmakers, both Democrat and Republican, come to the conclusion that “the enemy” is Chicago. They gang up, and vote the measure down.

At a time when the rural portions of Illinois only account for one-third (at most) of the state’s population, this issue has become one of the annual acts of state government. They kill off Daley’s dreams of gun control to show him that he can’t run roughshod over the rest of Illinois.

The most recent political killing took place Wednesday.

This year, Daley allies weren’t so bold as to push for any outright bans on firearms. What they wanted this year was creation of a state law that would have required the sale of handguns in Illinois to occur only at federally licensed firearms dealers – who must comply with laws requiring criminal background checks.

IT WAS A measure designed by Chicago city officials to get around laws that allow private sales of firearms by dealers at gun shows, where background checks on the gun buyers are non-existent.

City-oriented officials argue that these private dealers are the loop hole by which handguns wind up in the possession of people who otherwise would not be able to get a gun, but rural people say the Daley-desired change in law would criminalize individuals who privately sell a pistol to a friend.

The bill received a 58-58 vote, with two other legislators – Eddie Washington of Waukegan and Jim Watson of Jacksonville – not voting because of excused absences. Had those two legislators cast votes for the measure (a long-shot), it would have passed with the bare minimum of 60 votes.

Now for those who think the city is being picked on by the rest of the state, keep in mind that Daley allies knew full well they would lose again this year. A similar measure had already been rejected this spring. There was only one reason for the bill to be called for a vote, and that was because of Wednesday’s date.

APRIL 16, 2008 IS THE one-year anniversary of the shootings at Virginia Tech University where 32 students were killed when a well-armed student went on a rampage on campus.

Every single one of the 58 state representatives who voted against the Daley plan now runs the risk of having campaign advertising used against them that tells would-be voters how their local legislator celebrated, so-to-speak, the one-year anniversary of Virginia Tech by voting against “reasonable restrictions” on firearms.

Some of the legislators who come from suburban areas (who are only voting against the measure because they are Republicans opposing Democrat Daley) could run the risk of losing votes from people in their legislative districts who are not government junkies and do not follow the nuances of every single one of the thousands of bills that come before the General Assembly every year.

For rural legislators, this is less of an issue. Many come from small communities where rifle ownership can often be a cultural tie passed down from generation to generation. They are more likely to want to believe whatever spin the Illinois State Rifle Association wants to put on the issue, rather than the Daley spin.

WEDNESDAY’S LEGISLATIVE ACTION is a case of rural Illinois exerting what little influence it still holds (as they will be the first to tell you, all of the state constitutional officers and the General Assembly’s top leaders are from Chicago) on an issue where it believes the city’s desires are too far at odds with their own.

It literally becomes an issue where Southern Illinois Democrats have no problem breaking with their Chicago counterparts to unite with central Illinois Republicans to show that they are united in their desire not to be an extension of Chicago.

One legislator, Mike Bost of Murphysboro, said he thinks this year’s measure would have made criminals of the gun dealers who operate heavily in his area, and would not have any significant impact on violence in the city.

“It’s not going to cure your problem with criminals in your city with handguns,” Bost told the Bloomington, Ill.-based Pantagraph newspaper.

“YOUR PROBLEM,” AND “your city.” That is the sad thing.

Guns have become an issue of regionalism overcoming common sense and a desire to reduce violence, made worse by the fact that “Illinois” is, at best, a theoretical concept – rather than a distinct region with unified interests.

This different perspective is not new. I still remember the 1998 Democratic primary for governor – when eventual nominee Glenn Poshard (who takes great pride in being a Southern Illinois native with no ties to Chicago) started off the campaign as an outspoken critic of any measures to restrict firearm ownership.

Eventually, though, even Poshard moderated his talk against gun control, often telling the story of how he visited a Chicago hospital emergency room at a moment when some shootings were being treated.

HE WOULD SAY during the latter days of the campaign (while trying to convince Chicagoans he was not some rural ‘gun nut’) it was at that moment that he realized just why so many urban residents wanted handgun restrictions and were willing to put aside the desires of hunters and the theoretical notion of the Second Amendment to the Constitution (which guarantees the American people the right to arm themselves so they can be in a militia).

Perhaps the key is to drag every rural legislator into the Stroger Hospital emergency room to give them a sense of the chaos that can be created by firearms in the city.

Maybe then, people like Bost would start seeing that there are commonalities in Illinois’ regions, despite the roughly 300 mile difference that exists between Chicago and his hometown.

Admittedly, Bost is from the region that literally is closer to Memphis than either Chicago or St. Louis – the two cities that 95 percent of Illinoisans identify with. That could be just too large a social gap to bridge.

BUT THERE ARE political people who live on the fringes of the Chicago area who act as though they wish they could put space between themselves and the city. They are the ones who need to have a little arm-twisting.

Ultimately, it will have to come down to Chicago’s political muscle being used to let all Illinoisans know just how much of an economic and social stake they have in an improved Chicago – one that is safe and secure both in reality and in perception.

The scary thing is that too many legislators would see this as an excuse to extort Chicago for some sort of local project. No matter what they might want to think, rural legislators aren’t any more ethical than their urban counterparts. Just think back to how many rural lawmakers were upset that they didn’t get more for their support of a Chicago Transit Authority emergency funding measure that finally got approval early this year.

Short of an extra effort by Chicago, there doesn’t seem to be any sense that the two sides will come together any time soon. In the words of state Rep. John Bradley, a Democrat from Marion, “we’re always going to have philosophical differences about the issues involving gun ownership in the state.”

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EDITOR’S NOTES: One of the larger newspapers in central Illinois lays out Wednesday’s legislative activity on firearms sales restrictions (http://www.pantagraph.com/articles/2008/04/16/news/doc480676daa2d83486577944.txt) from the perspective of the rural critics of gun control.

Students at the University of Illinois are organizing themselves into a campus (http://media.www.dailyillini.com/media/storage/paper736/news/2008/04/14/News/Student.Org.Seeks.To.Permit.Guns.At.Illinois-3322182.shtml) organization that wants to be able to carry pistols around the Quadrangle and other parts of the campus in Urbana and Champaign.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

ALL firearm transfrs at gun shows are subject to the same background checks as run at gun stores. There is no so-called gun show loophole in Illinois. Whether you are a licensed dealer selling numerous firearms or a just a private citizens with one gun to sell, at a gun show, the checks are all the same. This is not the issue.

Jason R said...

The problem with the gun violence that permeates chicago is the fact that it is done ILLEGALLY in the first place. Majority of shootings are done by people with a criminal record, and/or by people under 21 (both are not legally able to own a handgun in Illinois). Even when we start talking about "common sense" laws, it comes down to one person saying they have more common sense than another.
That is why the constitution is so important, none of it gives us a right to use the freedom to hurt others wantonly; freedom of speech, religion, assembly have all been the foundation for someone to abuse the system, just the same as right to bear arms has, yet they are all equally important to a free society.
Anyone that puts a concern or restriction on one freedom is automatically giving a reason to take away any of those god given rights that we have. Our founders knew that if the government became too big, then the constitution gave the people power to bring that government back in control of them through press, religion, speech, and voting rights. It also gave people the final responsibility to be able to take the government back if the government would not relinquish power back to them.
THAT is what politicians fear about firearms, not that people are killed in random acts (hence no bans on vehicles, construction, or plane rides which kill many more people per year), but the fact that if they are able to control all aspects of the political process. People still have the ability to take up arms and take back the government that belongs to them.
When you get to real causes, it is never a tool that is used, it is always the user. Everyone needs to remember that when an argument for "banning" something is put forth.

Anonymous said...

All transfers done on the grounds, including parking lots, of gun shows are subject to background check. Private sales must be done between two FOID card holders. Since a background check is part of the FOID card process, both parties have had the background check. If a FOID holder is found guilty of a felony, the FOID becomes invalid and the state police confiscate it. Please, do some research before posting on subjects you obviously know very little about!

Will said...

First, you should keep in mind that the city of Chicago has less than 1/3 of the state's population before you get self righteous about "rural" downstate including merely 1/3 of Illinois residents.

At some point legislators from Chicago have to explain why the entire state should be forced to obey restrictions to deal with something that is mainly a problem in one corner of the state. Is there any evidence of criminals traveling downstate to buy weapons at gun shows in Murphysboro? I'd be interested to know if that's happening. Otherwise, why didn't this bill apply only to counties with populations over 500,000 so that it only effects Cook and the collar counties? That might have better luck becoming law.

Nathan F said...

42 of the 58 yes votes for this came from within Cook County. Chicago's voice is weighted appropriately in the General Assembly House. I am not so sure this issue will have any effect in campaigns. Tammy Duckworth campaigned heavily in the 6th district on gun control and she even got to mention scary "assault weapons" and this did not prevent Peter Roskam from winning in a year of Democratic victories. It saddens me to hear about the crime in Chicago, but going to a hospital and seeing those horrible things will not cause my emotions to overwhelm my principles.

Anonymous said...

More children die in drowning accidents then firearm incidents. I don't see anyone trying to outlaw water. The guns laws work if they are enforced. There are more then enough gun laws now we need to enforce them. V. Tech and NIU murder where committed by well known looney toons. There mental health workers did not notify the police that their patience cannot have a firearms because they where looney toons.

B. Ingram said...

I wish Southern Illinois would become it's own state. Then we wouldn't have to deal with all the "crime in Cook County." I'm from Murphysboro. Guns in this area are a common thing. Anywhere from skeet shooting with your buddies to a bonding expierience between a father and son. If you want to enforce a law because of a problem, then enforce it ON THE PROBLEM. Don't penalize the general population because of the ignorance of a few.