SPRINGFIELD — The Democratic-led majority in the Illinois House has voted in favor of banning guns in schools, casinos and on public transit during an unusual debate allowing lawmakers to vote piece by piece on where people should be allowed to carry concealed weapons.
Democrats said the hourslong action on the House floor Tuesday was a way to test support for the various elements of a bill that lawmakers are expected to pass this spring to comply with a federal appeals court ruling against Illinois — the only state that hasn't legalized some form of concealed carry for citizens.
Republicans accused the Chicago-led majority of forcing GOP lawmakers to take controversial positions that could be used against them in their next campaign.
"This is a political stunt," said Rep. Dennis Reboletti, R-Elmhurst, a former prosecutor. "It demeans this process."
The perpetual fight over gun control in Springfield took on new meaning following a December federal appeals court order that calls for Illinois to legalize concealed carry by early June. At the same time, Democrats who run City Hall and the Statehouse are pushing for new gun penalties amid an unrelenting stream of Chicago shootings punctuated in January by the death of a South Side teen who had traveled to Washington with her school to participate in President Barack Obama's inauguration festivities.
House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, set aside a special order of business to allow debate and votes on more than a dozen concealed carry proposals. Madigan's action forced up-or-down votes on the long lineup of amendments to a Democratic bill rather than the typical approach of weeding them out in committee or behind closed doors, then tacking on a few changes in the full House.
The legislation that carries all the amendments was not called for a vote, leaving potential conflicts between the proposals that lawmakers may seek to reconcile before any House vote to send the bill to the Senate.
With Madigan, the state Democratic Party chairman, already picking up suburban seats in the last election, Republicans feared he was setting his sights on gaining even more ground rather than actually trying to address the concealed carry issue. Republicans questioned why Democrats were focusing on the gun issue now, in this fashion, rather than on Illinois' budget problems and $96.8 billion pension debt.
Republican Minority Leader Tom Cross asked state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, whether her gun amendment does anything to address the state's pension crisis. Feigenholtz said the proposal was an "attempt to save lives."
"This bill can't pass out of the House like it is, nor can it go to the Senate, so how does that save a life?" Cross said.
Democratic lawmakers voted in favor of prohibiting concealed weapons in places like casinos, libraries, hospitals, mental health centers, child care facilities, stadiums and amusement parks.
"When they get done with this, you won't be able to carry anywhere," said Rep. David Reis, R-Willow Hill, expressing a frustration among many gun rights advocates as they watched restrictions get piled on.
At the end of the long string of amendment votes, lawmakers late Tuesday also approved an amendment sponsored by Rep. Brandon Phelps, the Harrisburg Democrat who has long sought to legalize concealed weapons. Phelps' proposal was drawn as a full bill that includes bans for stadiums, bars, churches, gymnasiums, sporting events and some businesses.
The gun debate in Illinois has always been more regional than partisan, with Downstate and suburban lawmakers of both parties more interested in gun rights for hunters and sportsmen. Chicagoans and lawmakers from nearby suburbs have been more interested in gun control.
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