Opinion: Gun rights under fire in Illinois

March 14, 2012 at 07:04 PM

Illinois has moved one step closer to allowing concealed carry of handguns — a right already afforded gun owners in every other state in the nation.

An Illinois House committee passed concealed carry legislation March 6, sending it to the House floor for debate. A similar bill failed in the House last spring, but barely, and supporters think the outcome will be more favorable this time around.

“I think we’re very close. I think we’re the closest we’ve ever been,” Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Norris City, the chief sponsor of House Bill 5745, said. “We’re the only state (that bans concealed carry). If it was so bad why are there no other states trying to repeal this? It works. Crime has gone down everywhere this has gone into effect.”

However,  the news isn’t all good for gun-rights advocates. State lawmakers are also considering two separate pieces of legislation that would chip away at citizens’ Second Amendment rights.

One, known as HB 5831, would create a statewide handgun registry. Handgun owners would have to pay a $20 registration fee for each firearm, and would then also have to pay a renewal fee every five years.

The idea of a statewide gun registry isn’t new in Illinois. The topic was first broached by the Illinois General Assembly back in 1965, according to a June 22, 1965, Chicago Tribune article. The idea was voted down, of course, and subsequent attempts to get similar legislation on the books also failed. But Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently reintroduced the subject, saying in a news release, “This is common sense gun legislation that will protect the rights of responsible gun owners while helping to keep illegal guns off the streets.”

I have to disagree, however. Criminals aren’t exactly law-abiding citizens, after all, so what makes anyone think they would bother following the law in this case? A statewide gun registry would only serve to penalize people who legally own their firearms — and those guns are already traceable by law enforcement.

It seems more likely such legislation is motivated by a desire to dissuade residents from utilizing their constitutional right to bear arms ... and to make money. There are about 1.4 million FOID-carrying gun owners in Illinois, so if each one paid to register a single gun the state would rake in a cool $91 million.

Attempts to make money off of Illinois gun owners doesn’t stop there, though; HB 5167 would add a 2 percent tax on ammunition. Money raised would pay for the treatment of gunshot victims in high-crime areas.

Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, responded to the news by issuing a scathing statement that said, “The lawful firearm owners of this state are under no obligation to pay medical bills racked up by gang bangers, druggies and other violent criminals.”

While I realize that not all gunshot victims are violent criminals, I do think Chicago officials are unfairly trying to pass the buck when it comes to paying for expensive medical treatment, which hospitals are legally required to provide, to gun owners — most of whom do not even live in the Windy City, which stands to gain the most financially.

A trio of downstate lawmakers are also fighting back against what they call an “oppressive, anti-gun agenda.” State senators Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, John Sullivan, D-Rushville, and Bill Haine, D-Alton, jointly launched the online petition at http://www.opposechicagogunlaws.com last week.

In a news release announcing the initiative, Koehler said, “These laws basically amount to new taxes on owning guns — taxes that will mostly be paid by law-abiding downstate hunters and gun enthusiasts. It’s especially troubling that the majority of the money raised by these new taxes will go to programs that primarily benefit the city of Chicago.”

Rather than trying to restrict the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens, I believe authorities would better serve the citizens of Illinois by turning their attention to catching and prosecuting actual criminals. That’s a surefire way to cut down on crime — and it wouldn’t require trampling on anyone’s Second Amendment rights, either.

City editor Amy Gehrt may be reached at 346-1111, ext. 663, or at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the Pekin Daily Times.