Biden administration commends new assault weapon ban in Illinois

Illinois joins eight other US states, including California and New York, in banning the sale of military-style firearms.

A woman mourns in front of a memorial with bouquets
The ban comes after seven people were killed in a mass shooting during the Fourth of July holiday at Highland Park, Illinois [File: Nam Y. Huh/AP Photo]

Illinois has become the ninth state in the United States to ban the sale of assault weapons, a move hailed by the administration of President Joe Biden, who called on other states to pass similar bans.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden “commends the leadership” of Illinois’s governor and legislators. The ban was passed by the state Senate on Monday, with Illinois Governor JB Pritzker signing the bill into law the next day.

Jean-Pierre said that Biden has “continued to press for more action to keep our homes, schools and communities safe, including federal laws requiring background checks for all gun sales and a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines”.

“In the meantime, the president continues to urge other states to join California, New Jersey, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Delaware, Washington, DC and now Illinois to ban assault weapons at the state level to save lives.”

The Biden administration’s efforts to address gun violence in the US have been focused on the sale of the military-style weapons, which are designed to rapidly fire and are often coupled with high-capacity magazines.

“The idea we still allow semi-automatic weapons to be purchased is sick. Just sick,” Biden said in November. “I’m going to try to get rid of assault weapons.”

Assault-style weapons have been used in several high-profile mass shootings in recent years, including the last May’s elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, where the gunman used an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle.

A federal ban on assault-style weapons had been enacted in 1994 under former President Bill Clinton but the law expired in 2004. Since then, efforts to reform gun laws have repeatedly stagnated in the US legislature.

Last June, however, the Biden administration signed into law the most significant gun safety legislation in decades. It strengthened background checks, funded laws to remove firearms from people considered to be a threat and closed a loophole that allowed some people accused of domestic abuse to own guns.

Gun control advocates widely praised the legislation, while noting it fell far short of wider-reaching reforms.

Under the new Illinois law, the sale of several kinds of weapons that automatically load the next bullet after a shot, including semiautomatic rifles and pistols with detachable magazines, are banned. The law lists dozens of popular gun brands made by US gunmakers.

Also banned are rifles that hold more than 10 bullets and pistols that hold more than 15. Selling rapid-fire attachments and .50-calibre guns is forbidden under the law, too. Residents who already own such weapons will be able to keep them but must register them with state police.

“No Illinoisan, no matter their zip code, should have to go through life fearing their loved one could be the next in an ever-growing list of victims of mass shootings,” Pritzker, a Democrat, said in a statement after he signed the bill into law.

He referenced the mass shooting at a July 4 holiday parade in Highland Park, Illinois, last year, in which a man with a semiautomatic rifle killed seven people and wounded dozens of others in the course of a few minutes.

Pro-gun groups have long maintained that assault-weapon bans violate the “right to keep and bear arms” enshrined in the US Constitution’s Second Amendment.

Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, said the law affects nearly 2.5 million gun owners in the state and that his group would sue to reverse the ban.

“Challenge accepted,” the association said in a statement.

Brady, a national group advocating against gun violence, said the ban would save lives, calling it a “major victory for Illinois”.

The Gun Violence Archive, a gun violence tracker, reported 648 mass shootings in the US in 2022, defined as firearm incidents with four or more victims, not including the shooter. The organisation documented 690 mass shootings in 2021 and 610 in 2020.

Last year, the Federal Bureau of Investigations reported there had been 61 “active shooter” incidents in the US in 2021, up 52 percent from 2020 and the highest on record.

The department defined an “active shooter” as someone engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a public space in a seemingly random fashion. About one in five “active shooter” incidents in 2021 were also mass killings.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies