SPRINGFIELD – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich joined families of victims of assault weapons, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and other gun safety advocates today to call on the Illinois General Assembly to pass a statewide assault weapons ban. Supporters of the ban on assault weapons took the cause to the Capital City after the tragic murders this month of two young girls from Englewood. Police report 14-year-old Starkesia Reed and 10-year old Siretha White were both killed by gunfire from assault weapons that would be illegal to buy, own, or sell in Illinois under the proposed ban.
“Assault weapons don’t belong on our streets. They don’t belong in our state. And anyone who doesn’t understand that just has to look at the tragedies we saw in Chicago earlier this month. On March 3, stray bullets from an AK-47 killed Starkesia Reed in her own home as she was getting ready for school. Eight days later, Siretha White was shot and killed by stray bullets as she celebrated her birthday. We lost two children in two weeks – and it happened because those killers had access to assault weapons,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “We must ban these deadly weapons – and we must do it now.”
“We need to continue to attack the crime problem from every angle. And one of the best ways is to continue working for common-sense gun legislation in Springfield,” said Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. “It is not about restricting the rights of law-abiding citizens, it is about taking assault weapons and semi-automatic guns off our streets where they do not belong.”
“I have lost my precious ‘Nugget’ to a deadly assault weapon that had no business being in my neighborhood. She would be alive today but for the deadliness of these weapons,” said Siretha Woods, mother of Siretha White. “Our family is so grateful for the outpouring of support from Gov. Blagojevich, Mayor Daley, and those in the state legislature that have shown care for the violence being perpetrated in our homes. Please, in the name of Siretha White, ban assault weapons in Illinois.”
Following the event, Gov. Blagojevich and victims’ families met with legislators still undecided about whether they would vote for an assault weapons ban. Hundreds of other people that attended the event visited the offices of Illinois General Assembly members to lobby for support of the ban.
“The majority of law enforcement personnel and the public favor a ban on assault weapons, and it is outrageous that the wishes of the people cannot be carried out because of the money and pressure influencing our legislators by the NRA and the gun industry,” said Gail Rice, whose brother Bruce VanderJagt, a Denver police officer, was shot and killed in 1997 by an assault rifle. “I hope that legislators will make the wishes of their constituents and the safety of our neighborhoods their top priority, and will vote courageously to ban assault weapons.”
House Bill 2414, sponsored by state Rep. Edward Acevedo (D-Chicago) and state Sen. John Cullerton (D-Chicago), would prohibit the manufacture, possession, and delivery of semiautomatic assault weapons, assault weapon attachments, large capacity ammunition feeding devices, and the .50 caliber rifle. Other banned weapons would include UZIs, Colt AR-15s, and TEC-DC9s.
"The tragic events in Englewood sadly demonstrate that assault weapons have no place in our community," Acevedo said. "My heart goes out to the victims and their families. We cannot let their suffering be in vain. As a police officer, I can confirm that these are dangerous weapons, used only for acts of terrorism and violence. We must stand united against the gangs and criminals who use them to wreak havoc in our neighborhoods and terrorize children and families."
"When the federal ban on assault weapons expired in 2004, there was broad consensus that it was working just fine," said Cullerton. "It's not right for Illinois to allow laws permitting a dangerous class of firearms that have no practical hunting, sporting or other recreational use whatsoever."
"Assault weapons claimed the lives of two young children in Englewood and to this day have yet to yield a single positive benefit to our community," said state Sen. Jacqueline Collins (D – Chicago). "We must move toward an assault weapons ban in order to keep tragic incidents like those in Englewood from happening in the future. People need to feel safe in their own homes. Children, adults, households, neighborhoods, and communities alike are seeing the ill-effects of assault weapons, and it will only continue to get worse if nothing is done at the state level."
“Assault weapons are a threat to the security of Illinois and its citizens,” said state Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Des Plaines). “Many of these guns, including the .50 caliber sniper rifle, are designed for military purposes and are powerful enough to pose a risk not only for our residents but also for strategic targets in our state.”
"As a gun violence victim myself, I have been so moved by the outpouring of support for the families in Englewood by communities all over the state. The message is clear, we need to get these vicious killing machines called assault weapons out of the hands of civilians in Illinois,” said Jennifer Bishop of the Brady Campaign. “While gun-lovers worry only about their industry profits, we have to step up and protect our children."
Under the proposed legislation, possession of a .50 caliber rifle or assault weapon would be a Class 3 felony for a first violation, carrying a sentence of 2-5 years; and a Class 2 felony, carrying a sentence of 3-7 years, for a second or subsequent violation or for having 2 or more weapons at once.
Assault weapons fire bullets rapidly and can fire at multiple targets, making them ideal for military use. For example, the larger magazines allow a shooter to fire 20, 50, or even 100 rounds without having to reload. Assault weapons have a high level of firepower, can penetrate body armor, and therefore pose a significant threat to police as well as innocent bystanders.
“The Illinois State Police supports the Governor's effort to ban assault weapons here in Illinois,” said State Police Director Larry Trent. “Law enforcement officers across the state are on the frontline in the fight against crime. Unfortunately, they can find themselves in the difficult position of being outgunned by drug traffickers, gunrunners and gang bangers who have obtained weapons illegally. This ban will help safeguard our citizens and police officers from high capacity semi-automatic weapons. "
In September 2004, leaders in Washington D.C. allowed the federal assault weapons ban to expire, despite promises from President Bush that he would renew the law. Since the federal ban was lifted, the Chicago Police Department has seized over 500 assault weapons, 400 in 2005 alone. In fact, just this past New Year’s Eve, the Chicago Police Department recovered 22 weapons, including an AK 47 and MAC 10 with a 30 round clip and a laser sight-weapon that would be banned statewide if lawmakers pass the pending measure.