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CHICAGO — The conversation over whether to ban assault weapons in Illinois continued Thursday at the second State House Committee hearing of the week.

Lawmakers heard around four hours of testimony at the public hearing on House Bill 5855, also known as the Protect Illinois Communities Act. 

The bill would ban the sale and possession of dozens of assault weapons, including the AR-15 rifle, which has been used in countless mass shootings. 

It would also make it unlawful for a person to knowingly possess such a weapon, a .50 caliber rifle, a .50 caliber cartridge, and high-capacity magazines 300 days after the bill takes effect, unless registered with the Illinois State Police (ISP).

The Protect Illinois Communities Act would make it unlawful for a person to knowingly possess such a weapon, as well as a .50 caliber rifle, a .50 caliber cartridge, and high-capacity magazines 300 days after the bill takes effect, unless possession of weapons is registered with the Illinois State Police (ISP) in the time provided. 

Lawmakers heard from four panels, including data experts and researchers, families impacted by gun violence, people involved in grassroots efforts, and several other members of the community who testified.

Delrice Adams, executive director of the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, laid out statistics on shootings, including the decrease from 1994 to 2004 of violence after the federal government banned semi-automatic weapons. 

“When an assault weapon or high-capacity magazine is used in a public mass shooting, almost 14 times as many people are injured and twice as many are killed,” Adams told the panel. 

Adams testified Thursday, saying there needs to be more community investment, including in diversion programming and evidence-based trauma-informed treatment, which she said can reduce crime related to illegal possession of firearms. 

In 2021 Gov. JB Pritzker declared gun violence a public health crisis. It was after that when the Office of Firearm Violence Prevention, within the Department of Human Services, was launched. 

Assistant Secretary of Firearm Violence Prevention Chris Patterson, a survivor of gun violence, said progress has been made to reduce crime in certain areas of Chicago with the help of grants, but that more needs to be done to continue seeing results on a larger scale. 

“Let’s help our communities that are trying so hard to help themselves by banning the weapons of mass destruction we loosely call assault weapons from the streets of this great state,” Patterson said Thursday. 

Other supporters of the bill, including shooting survivors and educators, testified Thursday. 

Maria Pike, whose son Ricky was shot and killed in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood in 2012, spoke in favor of the ban. Pike is a volunteer with Moms Demand Action.

“I’m speaking from my heart because it’s December and all survivors know that there is an empty chair in their homes,” Pike said.

Dr. Tiffany Gholson of East St. Louis School District #189 testified on the impacts of gun violence reaching well beyond the Chicago area.

Gholson, who said she lost two siblings and a nephew in shootings, shared the impact gun violence has had on her school district this year alone, while expressing support for the proposed legislation. 

“This semester alone, in four months, we have had 17 students injured in shootings,” Gholson said. “I see the trauma that gun violence imposes on our students, staff, families and community every day.”

The push for stricter legislation comes months after the Highland Park mass shooting that left seven people dead, and dozens injured.

House Bill 5855 was introduced by Rep. Bob Morgan, who was present during the July 4th mass shooting. 

Many who support the new legislation mentioned Highland Park, along with other recent shootings where high-powered weapons were used, including in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York, during Thursday’s hearing. 

Abraham Avalos, a resident of Waukegan, who was also at the Highland Park parade and helped aid those wounded, said he has a different outlook on the proposed legislation. 

“It was like a war zone,” Avalos said of the scene he witnessed. “Such a great loss of life.”

Avalos told the panel he believes there are people who respect others’ lives, and those who don’t, which is why he carries to protect his loved ones.

Avalos said he understands the efforts to push for solutions but doesn’t agree this legislation is the right course of action.

“Yes, you can make a difference in laws to slow it down, decrease it, but this isn’t one of them,” Avalos said. 

“While the name itself seems innocent, there are concerns with it being unconstitutional,” Andrew Guadarrama, who testified, said. “It doesn’t protect citizens in an immediate or possible long-term and it doesn’t reinforce current laws or regulations already in place. To disarm people would not lower crime. Chicago had a firearms ban for over 20 years and crime still persisted.”

Rep. Tony McCombie, who will be the House Minority Leader when a new legislature is seated in January, also argued the ban would put the safety of people in jeopardy and raises questions over whether it’s constitutional. 

McCombie also asked the bill’s sponsor, Bob Morgan, whether it was in his plans to introduce legislation banning handguns, to which he replied, it is not.

“My intention is to never be introducing legislation banning handguns. This legislation does address the rapid-fire devices that are modifying it to make it auto,” said Morgan.

Artinese Myrick with Live Free Illinois, also testified Thursday, and said while her organization supports a ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines, there are parts of the bill that raise concern.

“We are opposed to the FOID card limit being raised to 21. We are not arguing that 18-year-olds need assault weapons, but we are concerned that law-abiding citizens may be wrapped up in the system if they are not able to obtain weapons through the proper channels,” Myrick said. 

While some were strictly in favor of, or opposed to the legislation, others said the wide-ranging gun law isn’t a standalone solution to violence facing communities across the state. 

Several people involved in programming at the community-level, including Joseph Saunders of Brave Youth Group, called for more resources to support the outreach efforts working to reduce gun violence in the community daily. 

“I’m all for the ban of assault weapons,” Joseph Saunders with Brave Youth Group, said. “I wish all guns were off the streets, but that’s not reality. If this ban were to take effect, we’ve got hearts that need to be changed, minds that need to be changed.”

The law would also address illegal gun trafficking over state lines and enhance ISP’s ability to investigate it.

ISP Director Brendan Kelly is expected to testify next week, Rep. Morgan said during Thursday’s hearing. 

If this measure were to pass, it would join other states with similar assault weapons bans on the books, like California and New York. 

State Representative Bob Morgan said he is hoping to pass the legislation early next month.