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Emanuel calls special Council session on assault weapons ban

Updated: August 10, 2013 6:37AM

The Illinois General Assembly isn’t the only legislative body meeting in special session to talk about guns.

The Chicago City Council will do the same next week.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is calling a special Council meeting for July 17 to consider his companion plans to update and strengthen Chicago’s assault weapons ban and impose stiffer penalties for gun crimes committed near schools, on buses and along “Safe Passage” routes.

“The state has given us a deadline to pass a new assault weapon ban, and next week I will call a special session to make sure we get it done,” Emanuel said in a written statement. “These dangerous weapons can wreak havoc in a matter of minutes as we have seen too often on our streets. They have no place in our city, and we’ll do whatever is necessary to make sure we have a strong law in place.”

The special meeting will be only the second since Emanuel took office in May 2011. The other was to approve a new Chicago ward map, which is now the subject of a federal court challenge.

Emanuel is under the gun politically to safeguard 30,000 Chicago Public School students affected by nearly 50 school closings, the largest public school consolidation in the nation’s history.

The concealed carry bill significantly altered by Gov. Pat Quinn’s amendatory veto also puts Chicago and other municipalities on the clock. They have 10 days upon signage to pass new or updated assault weapons legislation.

With both deadlines looming, Emanuel has summoned the City Council to a special meeting to approve both gun ordinances.

The first aims to reassure parents of CPS students forced to travel farther to new schools, sometimes through rival gang turf, by imposing higher fines against gunslingers near public schools, on buses and along “safe passage” routes.

The ordinance would create “school safety zones” within 1,000 feet of a school — including parks — during school operating hours from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. as well as safe-passage routes and buses during those hours.

Anyone convicted of possessing a gun, ammunition or another “dangerous weapon” in the zones would face a fine of $1,000 to $5,000 for the first offense and a mandatory 30 days in jail. A second offense would carry a fine of $5,000 to $15,000 and a mandatory three months in jail. A third offense would carry a fine of $10,000 to $20,000 and a mandatory six-month jail term.

State laws already include considerably more jail time for gun crimes near schools, but judges don’t always impose prison time for gun offenses. In those cases, higher fines might be a disincentive.

The mayor’s revised assault weapons ban would update and strengthen Chicago’s existing ordinance, which prohibits the import, sale, transfer and possession of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in Chicago.

Penalties would remain the same. Violators still face fines ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 and from 90 to 180 days in jail. But the new ordinance reflects advances in gun technology. It would ban a list of specifically named weapons and their equivalents.

They include: any semiautomatic rifle or handgun that is capable of accepting a detachable magazine and has at least one military feature; any shotgun capable of accepting a detachable magazine, has at least one military feature or has a fixed capacity of more than five rounds, and any weapon with a fixed magazine of more than 15 rounds. Military features include “telescoping stocks, pistol grips, grenade launchers, barrel shrouds.”

“We took a look at the latest in gun technology and broadened the definition of assault weapons,” said a top mayoral aide, noting that Chicago’s existing assault weapons ban doesn’t include a list of banned weapons or their specific features.

Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, has argued that Emanuel is “attacking the wrong people,” noting that assault weapons were used in only one crime on the streets of Chicago last year.

“To attack a firearm is pretty easy — a lot easier than getting kids to stay in school so you don’t have a 49 percent dropout rate,” Pearson said. “He’s trying to draw attention away from the failures of the city. Banning assault weapons won’t solve those problems.”

Four months ago, the City Council agreed to broaden the requirement for reporting the loss, theft, sale or transfer of firearms to all gun owners — and double the jail time for an array of gun violations — to stop the bloodbath on Chicago streets.

The latest in a string of Chicago-only gun control ordinances followed companion legislation that imposed the first reporting requirement in Cook County.

It was hastily drawn after the Connecticut school massacre failed to move the General Assembly to approve an assault weapons ban, but before the murder of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton.

That ordinance requires all firearm owners — not just holders of city firearms permits — to report the loss, theft, destruction, sale or transfer of a firearm to both the Chicago Police Department and to the Cook County sheriff’s office.

Violators face up to six months in jail. That’s double the jail time for a reporting requirement that previously applied only to permit holders.

The February plan also doubled the maximum jail time to six months for possession of a firearm without a permit; possession of assault weapons and other firearms that cannot be registered in Chicago, and sale or possession of high-capacity magazines and metal-piercing bullets.

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