No action on contentious gun bill as Illinois House adjourns

News-DemocratNovember 7, 2013 

Illinois State Rep. Jerry Costello II in a 2013 file photo.

DERIK HOLTMANN — dholtmann@bnd.com

— Illinois lawmakers wrapped up their fall veto session Thursday without taking action on a controversial gun bill.

The measure has been pushed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel as a way to crack down on the city's crime.

It would increase sentences for ex-cons and known gang members who illegally possess guns, requiring them to serve 85 percent of their prison terms, rather than the 50 percent required under current law.

One version of the bill also would have required one-year prison sentences for first-time offenders.

The bill, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Michael Zalewski, D-Riverside, met opposition from both black leaders and gun-rights supporters -- two factions that don't often side with each other on gun issues.

Pro-gun lawmakers, including Rep. Jerry Costello II, a Smithton Democrat, feared that a gun owner's simple mistake, such as forgetting to renew a gun permit or loaning a car to someone, could result in a prison sentence for an otherwise law-abiding Illinoisan.

"Let's say you're at your parents' house for Christmas, and you ask your nephew to run up to the store to get a bag of ice. In the meantime, he gets in a wreck, somebody hits the car," Costello said. "If by chance I have a gun in the car, it would be a mandatory sentence."

Such a scenario wouldn't be so far-fetched with the implementation of the state's new concealed-carry law, which in some situations will require gun owners to leave their weapons in their vehicles, Costello said.

Some African-American leaders argued that the focus should be on rehabilitation programs for offenders, not prison. The Rev. Jesse Jackson on Thursday came to the Capitol to lobby against the bill.

Jackson called the gun measure "broad sweeping justice." He said jails already are overcrowded and the focus should be on education and jobs, "not incarceration."

Costello said the bill has now been stripped of any provisions that increase penalties for first-time offenders.

Black members of the House used a procedural measure that blocked the House from voting on the bill Thursday, the final day of the legislature's two-week veto session.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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