Mayor Emanuel proposes statewide gun-registration bill

By Chris Loeber

A proposed statewide bill, if enacted, would change the amount of information police are provided with as they deal with gun-related crime investigations.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel introduced the bill Feb. 9 at the Kids Off the Block community center, 11621 S. Michigan Ave., a nonprofit corporation that offers youth development programs. The proposal would, in effect, require residents to register their handguns with the state and report the loss or transfer of firearms. In addition, retailers would have to report all handgun sales to the Illinois State Police.

“This is common sense gun legislation that will protect the rights of responsible gun owners while helping to keep illegal guns off the street,” said Eve Rodriguez, spokeswoman for the mayor’s office. “So basically, this is a state law that’s requiring handgun owners to register their guns just like they register their cars to increase the safety of our residents.”

Chicago adopted a handgun registration policy in 2010, but many of the guns recovered by the Chicago Police Department come from outside the city limits, Rodriguez said.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, 56 percent of the firearms recovered by CPD at crime scenes come from within state but outside of the city.

The registration fee for each handgun will be $65. In addition, handgun owners will be required to pay a re-registration fee of $25. A portion of the revenue from the fees will be used to improve two public safety data systems: the Law Enforcement Agencies Data System and the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which allow authorities to share criminal justice information.

“The LEADS and the NICS system are drastically underfunded in the state,” Rodriguez said. “In essence, authorities don’t have the ability to import records into NICS, such as mental health records, which obviously leaves dangerous and gaping loopholes when a federal background check is performed.”

The proposed bill would create accountability for gun owners and firearm dealers to ensure that they act responsibly, which will also help prevent criminal possession of handguns, said Melissa Stratton, spokeswoman for the CPD. Law enforcement officers in Illinois would be able to access firearm ownership records throughout the state, she added.

“Beyond enforcement and accountability, this proposal is about the safety of the residents of Chicago,” Stratton said. “Every day, Chicago police officers put their lives on the line when they’re confronted by armed offenders, and far too often people are victimized by criminals who are armed with illegally obtained handguns.”

Rep. William Davis (D-30th), a supporter of statewide gun registration and sponsor of the proposed bill, said gun owners have to be accountable for their firearms so the guns don’t end up in the hands of criminals.

“I think, whatever your opinion, that many of the crimes committed in Illinois are done with illegal handguns,” Davis said. “I see this as a way to bring some light to that, and even if we’re not talking about the person who actually committed the act, [handgun registration] may provide an avenue to get to the person who committed the illegal act.”

Rep. Brandon Phelps (D-118th) said the mayor should not impose Chicago’s gun policies on the rest of Illinois because other parts of the state may not share the same gun-related crime issues.

Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois Rifle Association, said the law would be ineffective because criminals will never register their guns.

“Our reaction is [that] this is a preposterous proposal,” Pearson said. “The [mayor] wants to license every handgun in the state at 65 bucks a pop. We’re not going to go for it [and] we’ll fight it tooth and nail.”

Davis said he remains optimistic about the bill’s chance to become law, despite the resistance it could face in the state legislature.

In order for the bill to be enacted, it needs to be passed by the Illinois General Assembly and signed by Gov. Pat Quinn. It will be presented to the assembly within the week, according to Davis.

“If you’re a law-abiding citizen, it doesn’t stop you from having a gun,” Davis said. “It doesn’t tell you how many you have to have or limit the number that you can have, but for every one that you bought, you’ve got to register. But I’m optimistic because I do think that even the gun advocates will openly recognize that there’s nothing wrong with the bill.”