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Cook County trigger lock gun law could be toughest in Illinois

Thursday, July 18, 2013
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick & John Byrne

Chicago and Cook County Democrats raced Wednesday to put in place more comprehensive bans on semi-automatic assault weapons — with the county going a step further by enacting perhaps the toughest child-safety lock measure in Illinois.

The rush to pass new gun ordinances and fine-tune old ones was the result of a Friday deadline on such moves that’s part of the state’s controversial new concealed carry law.

County commissioners passed a measure to require that all guns in a home must either have a trigger lock, be stored unloaded in a separate container from the ammunition or be secured to the body of the legal owner if someone younger than 21 could get ahold of the weapon.

The county child-safety regulations are more stringent than state law, which only require locks or secure storage when someone in the home is younger than 14. A similar measure in Chicago defines a minor as less than 18 years old.

The county and city ordinances also imposes fines if someone is caught without a secure weapon a minor could access. State law only allows jail terms or fines if someone younger than 14 gets ahold of the gun and uses it to kill or maim.

Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, said he believes the county version now is the toughest in the state, but he expressed skepticism it would help protect the public.

The child lock measure will apply in all unincorporated areas and all county suburbs without their own ordinances addressing the same issue. The same is true for the modified assault weapons ban, which so far has withstood legal challenges.

Commissioner Timothy Schneider, R-Streamwood, who joined most of his fellow suburban Republicansin voting against both measures, noted that under the trigger-lock measure, someone who is 18 and could join the military and go to war cannot be in possession of a rifle — unless they are at a shooting range or hunting with someone 21 or older.

Even some Democratic commissioners questioned whether that would stand up to a legal challenge, but voted for it nonetheless. “We may unfortunately be inviting litigation we can do without,” said Commissioner John Fritchey, D-Chicago.

Fritchey also questioned a new county assault weapon provision that bars people from carrying handguns with larger capacity magazines in the county. That, he said, could conflict with the state’s new law that will allow people to carry concealed weapons for the first time.

Todd Vandermyde, lobbyist for the Illinois chapter of the National Rifle Association, said after the vote that he didn’t believe either of the new county measures would pass legal muster. He noted that Chicago ended up paying more than $1.3 million in legal fees to his organization for its successful challenge to the city’s handgun ban.

“It’s Cook County,” Vandermyde said. “You’ve got an anti-gun majority on the board. You’ve got an anti-gun president. They think the 2nd Amendment is a piece of toilet paper. They haven’t learned any lessons from Chicago. We’ll see what happens.”

County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said all of the county’s previous gun-control measures have been challenged in court, including the county’s new $25 fee on handgun purchases.

“Every piece of legislation that we’ve passed in this body that relates to firearms has been challenged — every piece of legislation — so I think that we can anticipate that we will be sued,” Preckwinkle said. “We will do the best we can nonetheless.”

She lauded Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, D-Chicago, for pursuing the tough child-safety lock measure, saying that guns in a home are much more likely to harm someone in a suicide, domestic violence attack or accident than be used in self defense. “So whatever we can do to discourage people from being careless about the firearms in their house we ought to try to do,” Preckwinkle said.

Like the county, the City Council also broadened its definition of an assault weapon to include far more firearms. Aldermen also voted 46-0 to toughen up seldom-used city ordinance violation charges in cases where guns are wielded illegally near schools. More typically, people are charged with state offenses in such cases.

“This isn’t going to cure it all, but we had a responsibility and we stepped up,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said after the vote.

The mayor introduced the tougher assault weapon ban and “school safety zone” measure after the General Assembly passed the conceal carry law. Emanuel also faces criticism from parents whose children have to travel through dangerous neighborhoods because he closed dozens of Chicago public schools.

Emanuel and aldermen stood one after another to speak in support of the plan and blamed the weakness of local gun laws on state lawmakers and the National Rifle Association.

“They’re always welcome to speak, but their values do not reflect the values of this city,” Emanuel said of the NRA.



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