Illinois Democrats’ plan to override gun dealer veto fizzles

By John O’Connor 
AP Political Writer

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois Democrats’ hopes of overriding a veto of firearms-dealer licensing fizzled Wednesday, swamped by the inaction of a Senate and House afraid to take the vote without cover from the other.

Democrats in the Senate, where the veto had to occur by Wednesday’s deadline, said they had enough votes to reverse Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of the plan to require gun shops to obtain $1,000, five-year licenses from the state; train employees to spot illegal purchasers; and videotape “critical areas” of their stores.

But the measure’s sponsor, Sen. Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat, said several of his colleagues’ commitments to vote for override were contingent on knowing that the House would follow suit.

“‘Victory’ is not overriding Gov. Rauner’s veto …,” Harmon said in a statement in which he pledged to re-introduce the plan by tacking it to existing legislation. “Victory means protecting the people we represent from the senseless violence fueled by the ready availability of guns in our communities.”

Harmon’s pushed the plan before as a way to keep in check what critics call rogue gun shops. Chicago officials released a report last fall showing that nearly one-quarter of guns recovered at crime scenes over a four-year period came from just 10 Chicago-area businesses.

It took on additional urgency after the Parkland, Florida massacre on Feb. 14, preceded a day earlier by the fatal downtown Chicago shooting of police Commander Paul Bauer.

But while Harmon looked to the House for reassurance, the sponsor there, Rep. Kathleen Willis, said she was courting votes from members who wanted to see the Senate act first and was at least three votes short of the 71 needed. “Those are the three who are waiting to see what their senators do,” said Willis, an Addison Democrat.

Wednesday was an unfortunate day for Democrats to broach the subject, with gun-rights advocates swarming the Capitol for the annual Illinois Gun Owners Lobby Day. Illinois Secretary of State police estimated the crowd at 1,000; the Illinois State Rifle Association claimed 2,500.

“It would be so cost-prohibitive for small shops like mine,” said 49-year-old Amy King, who’s owned a Belleville gun shop since 2003. “The law would be putting us out of business because of the amount of money that we would have to spend. I think the effort is to intimidate gun shops so that it makes it harder to purchase guns legally.”

Besides the cost, which supporters deny would be exorbitant, critics object to additional bureaucracy. Rauner’s veto message called the legislation “unnecessary, burdensome regulation” that would hurt small businesses without increasing community safety.

Rauner noted in a statement Wednesday that a public-safety group he formed is continuing “to focus on illegal gun trafficking, school safety (and) how to best keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill.”

Harmon lashed out at Rauner’s “vociferous and unreasonable opposition” to licensing, but said he’s open to further streamlining his plan, adding his hopes for “some cooperation on solving the real problem, which is a handful of gun dealers somehow sell a disproportionate number of guns that end up being used by criminals.”

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