City beefs up assault weapons ban, hikes fines for guns near schools
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter July 17, 2013 12:54PM
Updated: July 17, 2013 2:56PM
The City Council on Wednesday jumped through a fast-closing window to strengthen Chicago’s assault weapons ban and imposed sharply higher fines for gun crimes near schools and along “Safe Passage” routes to safeguard students forced to travel further after school closings.
“We need these types of efforts to save our children. It takes a village to save a child and Chicago should be that village,” South Side Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) said before the unamimous vote.
Ald. James Cappleman (46th) said he is well aware that neither ordinance will stop the bloodshed on Chicago streets. Still he said, “My father was killed by a gun. I hate guns.”
Although only 156 of the 3,829 firearms seized by Chicago Police this year were assault weapons, Ald. Latasha Thomas (17th) said, “There is absolutely no need for assault weapons. Banning assault weapons is something every city should do.”
Todd Vandermyde, the National Rifle Association’s Illinois lobbyist, accused Mayor Rahm Emanuel of trying to “put the best face on a major crime problem” he can’t control by championing two more gun laws that won’t do a thing to stop the bloodshed on Chicago streets.
“Do you think a gang-banger who’s going to pull a drive-by shooting and doesn’t worry about murder convictions is going to sit there and worry about a $10,000 fine?”
Emanuel is under the gun politically to protect 30,000 Chicago Public School students who will impacted by nearly 50 school closings, the largest public school consolidation in the nation’s history.
At the same time, the concealed carry bill approved by an Il. General Assembly that overrode Gov. Pat Quinn’s amendatory veto put Chicago and other municipalities on the clock. They have 10 days after passage to approve new or updated assault weapons legislation.
With both deadlines looming, Emanuel summoned the City Council to a special meeting Wednesday to approve both gun ordinances.
The Safe Passage ordinance aims to reassure parents of students forced to travel further to school, sometimes through rival gang turf, by creating “school safety zones” within 1,000 feet of a school.
The zones include parks and would be in effect during school operating hours from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. as well as along 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 up to $5,000 and 30 days in jail for the first offense to up to $20,000 and six months in prison for the third violation.
Emanuel’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.”
Lawful owners of assault weapons would have 60 days to “legally dispose of” their guns or “remove them from the city.”
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. Only one-tenth of the 3,000 weapons seized by Chicago Police this year were assault weapons.
Still, the mayor praised aldermen for “preventing assault weapons from contributing to the gun violence that too often plagues our communities and ensuring our children can focus on their studies and not their safety.”
The mayor’s statement added, “We all have a role to play in building safe communities—and that includes keeping weapons designed for the battlefield off our streets and punishing those who carry or use weapons around school children with stiff penalties.”
At a committee meeting earlier this week, both gun ordinances took political buckshots from both sides.
Austin complained that the unchanged fines for violating the assault weapons ban—$1,000-to-$5,000 fines and 90-to-180 days in jail–are not high enough to deter the gang violence plaguing her Far South Side ward.
“[Too many] kids are dying in my community….Most of the violence that’s created in…the African-American community—they have assault weapons. They’re not just run-of-the-mill. They [are] very sophisticated,” Austin said.
“If they have assault weapons of this magnitude and all we’re gonna do is slap `em on the hand with a $500 fine—most of these gang members got that in their pocket.”
Public Safety Committee Chairman Jim Balcer (11th) added, “I agree with you about a slap on the wrist. Why don’t we craft an amendment to increase that fine. I’m all for it. That’s something we can entertain” later.
The NRA’s Vandermyde took particular aim at the school safety ordinance.
“I don’t see any exemptions for people with carry permits. I don’t see any exemptions for people with F.O.I.D. cards or on their own property,” Vandermyde said.
“To sit there and say somebody within 1,000 feet of a school can’t have a firearm legally within their own home, much less on their own property? You’re running afoul of two Supreme Court decisions and a couple of Appellate Court decisions here.”
Vandermyde noted that his organization is three-for-three in challenging Chicago gun laws and that the city has paid NRA attorneys $1.5 million in legal fees over the last three years.
He left little doubt that the NRA would file another legal challenge—and attempt to make it four-for-four.