In the final public hearing of the year, law enforcement representatives and lobbyists for the National Rifle Association (NRA) and Illinois State Rifle Association (ISRA) provided opposing testimony on HB 5855, a proposed assault weapons ban in Illinois.
“In all my years of doing this, it’s never been this bad,” said Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, while holding some of the high-powered firearms accessories his department has seized.
“Innocent people all around are going to get slaughtered. That’s what’s going to happen. These things are designed for that. There is no sane person who’s going to say in our society we should have these,” said Dart.
Speaking to the Illinois House Judiciary committee in favor of the “Protect Illinois Communities Act,” Sheriff Dart called the increase in weapons on Illinois streets and the lethality of them “horrific.”
The bill covers a wide variety of topics, but its notable features include an increase of the state’s minimum age to purchase or own a weapon, as well as a full ban on assault weapons, extended magazines and other items.
Other law enforcement representatives testifying cited a yearly increase in the seizure of illegal guns.
“Assault weapons are deigned to inflict maximum tissue damage in the shortest amount of time,” said Elena Gottreich, the deputy mayor of public safety for the city of Chicago.
“Gun violence, in short, is not new to Chicago and has been exacerbated in recent years by the proliferation of assault style weapons.”
Gottreich said that in 2021, a record 12,000 illegal guns were seized. Of those, 1,025 were assault weapons.
“Each year, the valiant men and women of the Chicago Police Department take more crime guns off the streets than New York and Los Angeles combined,” said Gottreich.
Angel Novalez, testifying on behalf of Chicago Police, said he’s concerned for his fellow officers.
“Day in and day out, this is dangerous work. Since the year began, 55 Chicago police officer have been shot or shot at. I worry about their well being, their morale knowing they’re out-weaponed in the very streets they’re trying to protect,” said Novalez, CPD’s chief of community policing.
Unlike previous hearings, gun rights advocates opposed to the bill also testified before lawmakers to call it unconstitutional and unfair to law-abiding gun owners.
“We’re not going to negotiate. I’m here to tell you if House Bill 5855 or anything remotely like it passes, we will see you in court,” said Todd Vandermyde, a former lobbyist for the NRA.
“I’m here to tell you the gun owners are tired of being blamed for every mad men, every criminal and every other depraved act,” he said.
Ed Sullivan, a lobbyist with the ISRA, said the two sides don’t understand each other and more should be done to bridge the gap.
“Why do we teach about alcohol and drugs? We want to protect our kids. Why don’t we teach about gun safety? You want an answer to gun violence, start teaching about gun safety,” said Sullivan.
The hearing was informational only and no vote was taken.
Lawmakers in favor of the bill hope to pass it in the lame duck session on or before Jan. 10.