Big changes to Illinois' gun laws don't happen often. But a growing movement across the country appears to be resonating in the state's General Assembly.
Hundreds rallied outside the Statehouse calling for stricter gun control. Several in attendance, like Mary Kay Mace, have lost loved ones to gun violence. They wore pins showing the faces of the deceased.
Mace lost her daughter when a gunman opened fire in a Northern Illinois University classroom. She says the recent high school shooting in Florida happened on the 10th anniversary of her daughter's death. “We are piling anniversaries of mass shootings on other mass shootings’ anniversaries,” she yelled through a megaphone at the rally. “How many other countries can say that?”
Advocates focused on one measure they want to see passed in particular — requiring gun dealers be licensed. It’s an idea that has been floated unsuccessfully for over a decade. They say that could make dealers more accountable.
But Savanna GOP Rep. Tony McCombie says she doesn’t think gun control legislation will have much impact. “Guns do not kill people. People kill people,” she said. “This bill is not going to change that.”
Instead, many Republicans like McCombie — as well as some Democrats — say the proposals are ill-considered and were put together too quickly. They argue the rights of law-abiding gun owners could be infringed.
Before the General Assembly had a chance to vote, two high profile voices of support for gun control made the trip to Springfield from Chicago. Both Cardinal Blaise Cupich and Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson urged legislators to consider the various proposals.
Cupich placed children at the center of his pleas. He asked for bipartisan support and for everyone “to listen to the voices of our young people.” He made references to the “carnage” and loss of life at the Florida high school.
Johnson stood behind the Paul Bauer Act — named for a Chicago police commander killed by a man wearing body armor. The proposal would ban its use.
Advocates like Cupich and Johnson say gun reform action must happen within the state while federal leaders mull over what they will do. Gov. Bruce Rauner has remained mum on specific legislation but has said he thinks any regulatory changes should happen at the federal level.
Seven different gun-safety measures were slated for votes — but only a few advanced, including one to prohibit anyone under 21 from purchasing so-called assault rifles.
After a two-hour debate, the measure to license gun dealers passed the House. Early Thursday afternoon, the measure was sent to the governor’s desk, where it awaits his decision.
Of all the gun legislation under consideration, that proposal is the first to make it this far. While some other states are considered better strongholds of the gun rights lobby, in Illinois the lobby has been able to fight off many past attempts at gun control.
Yet, the shock of the Florida school shooting and advocacy efforts that have followed appear to be resonating in many statehouses.
In Illinois, supporters of gun control have made it clear they won't settle for partial victories and say those who don't go along will pay a price in the coming election.