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Time for Illinois to outlaw semiautomatic weapons

Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Chicago Sun-Times

If we could pass a law that could save one person's life, at only modest inconvenience to anyone else, should we do it? That is the question facing Illinois lawmakers as they once again consider a statewide ban on semiautomatic assault-type weapons. We would argue that the answer is clear, that certain guns ought not to be legal, and that those who oppose such efforts are defending the indefensible. They are picking someone's right to play with deadly toys over public safety.
We can't say whether such a ban would have prevented the deaths of 14-year-old Starkesia Reed or 10-year-old Siretha White, two girls from Englewood who were slain by gunfire in Englewood earlier this month.
But we do know that the weapons apparently used in each crime would have been illegal had the federal assault weapons ban not expired in 2004. And they would have been illegal in Illinois had the Legislature acted last year, when it narrowly failed to pick up the slack left by the federal expiration.
Spurred by the girls' deaths, Gov. Blagojevich and Mayor Daley last week launched a last-minute effort to pass a statewide ban in the waning days of the Legislature. They especially need the support of suburban Republicans to overcome the opposition of Downstaters.
Their bill largely mirrors the expired federal ban, outlawing certain guns by name and others by description. For example, it names an AK-47 -- the type of gun apparently used to kill Starkesia -- as a banned weapon. And it bans semiautomatic rifles and pistols that have detachable magazines and at least one military feature. (Fully automatic weapons -- what most of us call machine guns -- already are banned.)
Opponents of the ban argue that it's already illegal to use guns to commit crime. They say it's already illegal to own a gun in Chicago. They say a ban would make legal gun owners suffer. They're right on all counts. But these assault-type weapons are the gun of choice for some gangbangers. They are particularly deadly -- especially when they are easily converted to fully automatic use. Gun owners would have a hard time convincing most of us that they need such a weapon, or that their desire to play with one at a shooting range or on the hunt outweighs public safety.
There is evidence that the gun used in Starkesia's shooting was purchased in Indiana, where recent efforts to enact a statewide ban have failed. The ability to buy guns legally in another state tells us a federal ban would be more effective. But because that doesn't seem likely now, Illinois lawmakers should at least make sure these weapons are illegal here.
This editorial is the consensus view of the Sun-Times News Group of 100 newspapers in the Chicago metro area.

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