News Local/State

Illinois Communities Run Out Of Time For “Assault” Weapon Restrictions


It could be months before anyone can actually bring a gun outside the home. But a separate provision of Illinois’ new concealed carry law has already taken effect.

Beginning this weekend, communities will no longer have the ability to enact restrictions on assault weapons. The state gave municipalities until midnight Friday to act.

It all started with an application for a license to open a gun shop, in 1981.

“At that time, Ronald Reagan had been shot and there was a lot going on at that time, concerning handguns. And of course at that time there was still a lot of shooting in the South and West sides of Chicago,” Don Sneider, a Morton Grove Trustee at the time.

The board didn’t just reject the license application; the board banned the sale of handguns. And the then it took another step by becoming the first in the nation to ban the possession of handguns.

It set off a firestorm. A media frenzy that went international.

“Japan sent their people, their television people – in fact they came into my house – to discuss it,” Sneider said. “They were amazed we didn’t have any laws like that in the United States.”

It made Sneider and his allies some enemies.

“The NRA of course came in and made all kinds of threats,” he said.

Political threats, mind you – ones that Sneider overcame – he retired from the Morton Grove board in 2000.

And for a time, his position won too. State and federal courts upheld Morton Grove’s ban.

Thirty-two years later – it’s a different story. In 2008, more recent court decisions led Morton Grove to repeal its handgun ban.

And earlier this month, Illinois lifted its longstanding ban on guns outside the home, following an order from a federal court.

The law legislators passed for July 9 made it so that Morton Grove wouldn’t be able to pass such restrictions again.

The law gave communities ten days to place local limits on the sale, possession, and transport of so-called “assault weapons.” 

A timeline Nicole Chen calls “ludicrous,” and a decision that shouldn’t be left to the state.

“Communities should have the discussion amongst themselves that they live with every day and that they coexist with every day, they should have that discussion within their communities,” Chen said.

Chen, a mother of two from Western Springs, began lobbying for gun-control following the Sandy Hook school shootings last December. She said there is no reason assault weapons bans were part of the concealed carry law – except because it’s good for the National Rifle Association.

“I’m well aware that it is a national policy strategy of the gun lobby to start stripping communities’ abilities to make their own gun laws - preemption, as it’s called,” she said.

Because Chen’s town, Western Springs, is in Cook County, it is covered by the county’s existing, but newly expanded and tougher, ban on assault weapons.

But a vast majority of the local governments in Illinois did not take action within the ten-day window.

Advocates of that approach say it’s with good reason – they say gun control should be left to the state or federal government.

“I think it would have created all kinds of problems to have local communities setting up different standards,” Springfield Mayor Mike Houston said. "Whereas somone might be legal in one community and find themselves carrying (sic) illegal weapon."

“If somebody owns an assault weapon and let’s say they’re just outside of Bloomington-Normal,  where it might be okay,  odds aren’t they’re not going to say, “Well gosh, when I cross over into the city of Bloomington, this weapon is illegal!’ Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner said. "I have difficulty with that type of approach."

Other municipal leaders say they didn’t take action because there wasn’t enough time.

Others cite a fear of getting dragged into court by gun rights groups, and getting caught in a legal battle they don’t have money to fight.

Still – other communities did hurry to pass an ordinance within the ten-day window, including Highland Park, Skokie and Deerfield. 

“By having something on our books, we are able to see what's going to happen next and how all the dust settles with concealed carry and the assault weapon bans and whatever, and then if we chose to take further action we have that ability,” Deerfield Mayor Harriet Rosenthal said. “With nothing on our books we don’t have the ability to do anything.”

Rosenthal admits the village doesn’t see a lot of violence, but she says even so,“we owe our residents the safest community that we can give them. And we certainly wouldn’t want to wait for some type of violent action and then act. You want to just be proactive.”

Trustees in Morton Grove wanted to keep their options open too, according to its mayor, Dan DiMaria.

On Thursday, the day before the deadline, Morton Grove unanimously voted that firearms capable of carrying magazines with more than 30 rounds of ammunition are not allowed in public.

The village that once had the nations’ strictest gun prohibition this time took a conservative approach with its new ban. But it passed one – just in time.