After the Highland Park shooting, Pritzker signs comprehensive gun control laws.
Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed the Protect Illinois Communities Act into law on Jan. 10, taking a hard stance against semi-automatic rifles and assault weapons in the state. The law went into effect immediately.
According to a press release on the Illinois government website, the act bans the sale and distribution of assault rifles, high-capacity magazines and switches in Illinois. “I couldn’t be prouder to say that we got it done,” Pritzker said when he signed the act into law. “And we will keep fighting — bill by bill, vote by vote and protest by protest — to ensure that future generations only hear about massacres like Highland Park, Sandy Hook and Uvalde in their textbooks.”
A semi-automatic gun is defined as an assault weapon that has “the capacity to accept a detachable magazine or may be readily modified to accept a detachable magazine,” according to an article published on the Belleville News-Democrat website.
According to Everytown Research and Policy, Illinois is one of the national leaders for gun safety policy, coming in seventh overall. Of some of the main policies Pritzker signed – the banning of assault weapons, the banning of high-capacity magazines and regulations against ghost guns – only 11 other states have policies that are comparable.
The Institute for Nonviolence Chicago (INC) was founded in 2016. Their director of development and communications, Tara Dabney, says the organization focuses on fighting violence in the city. They mainly do work in the neighborhoods of Austin, West Garfield Park, Brighton Park and Back of Yards. Founder and executive director of INC Teny Gross testified in Chicago in favor of the assault rifle ban.
“Obviously, this legislation is not the whole picture… but I want to support allies who are fighting that fight,” Gross said.
The goal of Gross, Dabney and their team is to curtail violence in neighborhoods through community-based programs. These programs include victim services, case management and other services. Aside from the assault rifle ban, they want mental health services, better schools and peacemaking plans in the communities. However, the assault rifle ban still goes a long way.
“We’ve got to invest in the reality we’ve created and the damage we created,” Gross said. “It wasn’t created by Black kids in Austin or West Garfield, we created it. We created this reality.” At the end of the day, his goal is make sure organizations like his are no longer needed.
Weapons now banned in Illinois have been used in several high-profile mass shootings. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the man who is accused of killing seven people in Highland Park last July allegedly used a Smith & Wesson M&P15 semi-automatic rifle. The man that killed 21 people – including 19 children – at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, used an AR-style semi-automatic weapon, according to the Texas Tribune. Both men acquired these weapons legally.
Gross said the desire for assault rifles cannot be considered as self defense. “You have the right to defend yourself with maybe 10 bullets, 20,” he said. “You don’t have the right to have a magazine, that’s not defending yourself, spewing 60 bullets.”
Under the Protect Illinois Communities Act, people who already own these types of weapons are able to keep them. However, they are now required to register the weapons with law enforcement. According to the press release, this element of the law is to ensure “law enforcement knows the location of these weapons of war and who to hold accountable if they fall into the wrong hands.” In the coming months, gun owners must submit an affidavit online with the Illinois State Police to register their assault weapons.
“There’s no other part of society – medication, where we post corners, where we put lampposts, where we put trees – that is not regulated,” Gross said.
The response to the law hasn’t been all positive, however. According to CNN, a joint lawsuit was filed against the law in the Southern District of Illinois by gun rights groups including the Illinois State Rifle Association, the Second Amendment Foundation and the Firearms Policy Coalition. The lawsuit argues that the law infringes on the constitutional rights of the citizens of Illinois. Though the ISRA originally agreed to an interview, they never responded to scheduling requests.
In an interview with CNN, Alan M. Gottlieb, the founder and executive vice president of the Second Amendment Foundation, said the Illinois lawmakers are using gun owners as scapegoats to avoid doing anything about violence in the state, especially in Chicago. “In reality, it’s an effort to distract the public from the fact that these same lawmakers have been unable or unwilling to crack down on criminals responsible for violent crime,” Gottlieb said to CNN.
It’s not just gun rights groups that are angry over the ban. According to CBS Chicago, sheriffs across the state have said they will not enforce the ban where they have jurisdiction. Though these sheriffs have made different statements, all have cited the Second Amendment as their reasoning. In the greater Chicago area, sheriffs from DeKalb, DuPage, McHenry, LaSalle, Grundy, Kankakee and Kane counties have said they will not enforce the law.
Gross is open to conversation with these groups. “We want to share with them how our pain goes, and we’re willing to hear how they see the Second Amendment,” he said. “We share the same land, we’re part of the same country, so I always say we should talk.”
Pritzker signed the Protect Illinois Communities Act in addition to other gun control measures he’s been passing since his first year as governor.
Pritzker signed House Bill 562 in 2021, which strengthens background checks in Illinois 2021. It will also modernize the Firearm Owners Identification Card System. According to the Sun-Times, the identification card system was not strong enough to stop the Highland Park shooter from purchasing a weapon, despite having threatened the lives of his family.
Senate Bill 337 was signed into law in 2019 to combat illegal gun trafficking in the state, and gun dealers must be certified. Illinois is the 16th state to require this.
Pritzker also signed House Bill 4383 in 2022, which banned “ghost guns,” or guns that are privately made without a serial number, making them harder to track. Illinois is the first Midwestern state to do this.
Gross hopes legislation continues to pass in order to bring violence down, especially in Chicago, through “hiring, training, supporting people from the neighborhoods for peace makers,” he said. “It’s hard not to be furious with this carnage.”
Header illustration by Madeline Smith