Tackling two hot-button issues, the Illinois House debated early into Friday morning and ultimately voted to ban military-style guns like the one used in the Highland Park mass shooting and to protect abortion providers and patients from out-of-state legal repercussions.
The late-night, lame-duck maneuvering comes as lawmakers are set to conclude their two-year legislative cycle next Wednesday and positions the state Senate for final action on the measures.
The House’s 64-43 gun vote occurred almost six months to the day after a gunman armed with an AR-15-style semiautomatic weapon shot and killed seven people and injured dozens more at the Fourth of July parade in Highland Park.
Prosecutors in Lake County say the alleged gunman, Robert Crimo III, obtained his gun with help from his father, Robert Crimo Jr., who was charged last month with seven counts of reckless conduct in connection with the mass shooting. Crimo III was charged last July with more than 100 charges related to the attack.
The measure was sponsored by House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside.
“This legislation will, most importantly, ban the new sale of assault weapons in the state of Illinois. This is what the people of this state have been calling for. That’s what it will deliver,” Welch said. “These are weapons that belong on a battlefield, not at parades celebrating our country’s independence or at parks or at schools or at our churches,” he said.
Welch’s legislation bans the manufacture, sale and purchase of assault weapons and the large capacity ammunition magazines needed to use the guns and requires current owners of such weapons to report the serial numbers of their weapons to the Illinois State Police. It also bans so-called “switches” that convert handguns into illegal machine guns that can fire 20 shots in about a second.
During one point in his opening statement, Welch recounted how gun violence had impacted his own family. Welch said his aunt was gunned down in front of her West Side church in 1985, orphaning her three daughters – cousins his parents took in and whom Welch now calls “sisters.”
“Our family made it despite the senseless gun violence that happened in 1985. And it’s 2023, and that senseless gun violence continues,” he said. “We have a chance today to protect Illinois communities.”
Welch’s GOP counterpart, House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, was the first Republican to speak, and he dramatically broke ranks with gun-rights advocates within his caucus by voicing support for the legislation.
Durkin dwelt upon the horror of Highland Park.
“The Highland Park shooter fired 83 shots in 60 seconds, reloading his rifle three times. Seven deaths, five at the scene. Two later at the hospital. Two of the deaths, a husband and a wife, died shielding their two year old son, a little boy who made it through. He’s going to grow up as an orphan without his parents. An 8-year-old boy was paralyzed by the shooting. He’ll never walk again. He’ll never live the life he dreamed of living nor the life his parents dreamed for him. All of this happened in one minute, 83 shots,” Durkin said.
“I’m tired,” said Durkin, who announced in November he would relinquish his leadership position and spoke Thursday night in an unencumbered manner. “I’m sickened by the shootings everywhere in this state with these types of weapons.”
But his successor, incoming House Minority Leader Tony McCombie, R-Savanna, took a more hardline stance against the bill that more familiarly aligned with Republican ideology in support of the Second Amendment.
Like most of her House Republican colleagues, she contended the legislation would not reduce gun violence or address its root causes and punish law-abiding gun owners.
“We’re taking the ability of people away to protect themselves. The weapon is not the issue. It’s who’s wielding that weapon. And this bill does not address that,” McCombie said.
Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker has advocated for banning assault weapons and, in a clear show of support for the legislation, ventured onto the House floor as the bill was called for a vote before 11 p.m. The governor sat alongside Welch during the entirety of the roughly 100-minute debate into the wee hours Friday.
After adjournment, Pritzker praised passage of the gun and abortion legislation.
“The people of Illinois send us to Springfield to tackle tough issues, and these bills are historic steps in the right direction,” he said. “I look forward to working with our colleagues in the Illinois Senate to get bills addressing these issues to my desk so I can sign them as soon as possible.”
On the abortion front, the House passed further abortion-rights legislation aimed at answering red-state criminalization of the procedure and legal threats made against Illinois abortion providers and their patients.
The House voted 67-41 in support of the multi-layered abortion package pushed by state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, that, like the gun bill, now awaits Senate action.
Her measure would bar state disciplinary action against any abortion provider targeted by other states that ban abortions. It also would prohibit abortion providers from responding to out-of-state subpoenas seeking information about women and girls who come to Illinois to circumvent abortion bans in other states.
“It will protect providers and patients,” Cassidy said of her legislation. “It will ensure access for our residents as we see upwards of 30,000 inbound patients from hostile states seeking care that they can’t get in their home state and it will expand capacity.”
Cassidy’s measure also would require health insurers by January 2024 to cover at full cost abortion-inducing medication, drugs for those transitioning between genders, and HIV pre- and post-exposure medicine, commonly known as PrEP or PEP.
Republican opponents railed against her legislation, arguing it would accelerate gender reassignment procedures among youth, enable abortions to be provided by non-physicians and further cut parents out of decision-making if their kids seek abortions.
“This goes far beyond and is way out of step with what a majority of Illinoisans think is appropriate restrictions,” said state Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Morrisonville.
Dave McKinney covers Illinois politics and government for WBEZ.