SPRINGFIELD -- Even before a gunman opened fire over the weekend at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., killing 49 people before being fatally shot by police, efforts were underway in the Illinois General Assembly to strengthen the state’s gun laws.
The Illinois House is considering a bill that would require gun dealers to be licensed by the state and another that would create a “lethal violence order of protection,” allowing family members, roommates or law enforcement officers to seek court orders barring individuals from possessing firearms if there’s evidence showing that they pose a danger to themselves or others. Both measures are sponsored by Rep. Kathleen Willis, D-Addison, who didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Colleen Daley, executive director of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, said mass shootings like the one in Orlando, the deadliest in modern U.S. history, underscore the need for stricter controls on the sale and possession of guns.
“We see this time and time again, primarily in Congress,” Daley said. “These things happen and everyone says thoughts and prayers, and then it leads to inaction. … Inaction is no longer an option. We have to do absolutely everything we possibly can to help save lives in our country."
The need for stronger gun laws should already be clear in Illinois, Daley said, noting that 42 people were shot, seven of them fatally, this past weekend in Chicago.
The Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen, was able to purchase the semi-automatic handgun and rifle he used in the attack despite reportedly having previously been on the FBI’s terrorist watch list. Changing that would require congressional action, but Daley said measures like those under consideration in Illinois could help stem the tide of gun violence.
“Congress refuses to act, so we need to do things here in Illinois that are going to save lives,” she said.
Allowing family members to go to court for lethal violence orders of protection could potentially prevent a mass shooting, Daley said.
Since the Orlando shooting, Mateen’s ex-wife has said publicly that he was “mentally unstable and mentally ill.” Under the proposed Illinois law, however, only a relative “by blood or present marriage,” a roommate or a law enforcement officer would be able to seek such a court order.
State licensing of firearm dealers, meanwhile, would help prevent guns from reaching the streets to be used in crimes, Daley said.
A 2014 report from the Chicago Police Department notes that four stores -- three in suburban Cook County and one in Gary, Ind. -- accounted for nearly 20 percent of the guns recovered in Chicago crimes from 2009 to 2013.
More scrutiny from state regulators and local law enforcement would help keep guns out of criminals’ hands, the report says.
But Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, said both measures under consideration in the General Assembly are examples of unnecessary overreach.
The organization posted an announcement on its website Monday saying that “the gun-grabbers in the Illinois House” are still waiting for their opportunity to call for a vote on the “dangerous legislation” on state licensing.
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives already tightly regulates gun sales, making additional state oversight unnecessary, Pearson said.
If the bill were to become law, he said, it would be “used by Chicago and Cook County to harass gun sellers.”
Likewise, allowing family members to seek court orders barring people from possessing guns could be “used for harassment of people, of relatives you didn’t like,” Pearson said.
“Somebody can complain against you, and your rights are immediately wiped out without any hearing,” he said.
The bill provides for a hearing within 14 days of an emergency order being granted.
Pearson said his organization isn’t against laws that will help put people who use guns illegally in jail. For example, the Illinois State Rifle Association supported a bill the Legislature approved this spring that would create a felony charge for firearm trafficking.
The General Assembly also approved a bill that would require the Illinois State Police to notify local law enforcement agencies when someone’s Firearm Owner’s Identification card is revoked due to a court-issued order of protection.
A spokeswoman for Gov. Bruce Rauner said he “will carefully review these bills to ensure they protect public safety and the rights of lawful gun owners.”