Chicago Tribune: After an emotional meeting in which people lined the walls and overflowed from the City Council chamber, Highland Park officials voted this week to ban assault weapons in their community.
Gun enthusiasts said the ordinance would not stop crime — except by making criminals out of responsible rifle owners. Others applauded the move as helping protect the city against tragedies.
When state legislators recently approved a bill to allow legal Illinois owners to carry concealed handguns, they also preempted municipal home rule authority for cities like Highland Park to ban assault weapons. But there was a caveat that allowed local laws to stand if already on the books or created within 10 days of the governor’s signature.
Gov. Pat Quinn has until July 9 to sign House Bill 183, otherwise known as the Firearm Concealed Carry Act, which sets the clock ticking.
“The State of Illinois failed us,” said Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering, adding that “our entire goal was to preserve home rule” when the Council voted 6-1 on June 26 to create a ban on weapons, modeled after Cook County’s law.
The ordinance gives owners of weapons or “large capacity magazines” 90 days to remove the items from city limits, permanently modify them to not fall under the law’s definition, or surrender them to police for disposal. Violation of the ordinance will be considered a misdemeanor, that could include up to six months in jail or a fine of between $500 and $1,000.
David Naftzger was the sole councilman to vote against the ban, saying he had questions about the ordinance’s effectiveness and legality. “But there’s no question in my mind about the specter of hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars of litigation costs” that the ordinance could generate, Naftzger said, echoing the comments of several firearms supporters who threatened legal action against the city. “Those costs will necessarily have consequences for our city’s spending on public safety measures and other city priorities.”
A week before Highland Park’s Monday vote, Deerfield stepped back from an outright ban to consider storage and transportation regulations on assault weapons, as defined by the Cook County ban.
Though the state concealed carry legislation would allow home rule municipalities with local assault weapons laws on the books to later amend them — even after the 10-day window for the governor’s signature closes — Rotering didn’t believe that Deerfield’s law went far enough to preserve its home rule authority.
“You need to have an affirmative ban with a definition of assault weapons,” Rotering said in an interview after the meeting. “Storage and (transportation) does not constitute a ban.”
Residents and non-residents alike chose to miss Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final in order to express their opinions on both sides of the issue. In all, more than 50 people took the microphone, speaking for up to three minutes, before the City Council took its vote.
Several opponents said assault-weapon violence does not plague Highland Park. Others cautioned that the local ordinance could end up in court, leaving residents on the hook to pay for its defense. Still others evoked imagery of Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and other fascist, communist or terrorist regimes who disarmed civilians before embarking on bloody massacres.
Mary Smith, of Highland Park, noted that more people died in vehicle deaths last year than assault weapons violence. “Are you considering banning automobiles as well?” Smith said.
Joel Friedman, of Highland Park, said the ban is not in reaction to any specific problem. “This ban has no reason for being. It’s a meaningless gesture,” Friedman said.
Highland Park resident Sasha Turk said she grew up learning gun safety, which she said is crucial. She argued against the local law, arguing that virtually anything could be used as a weapon.
“If I really wanted to, I could kill somebody with a lamp or a coffee mug,” Turk said. That comment didn’t go over well with an emotional Stephanie Kerch, also of Highland Park, who spoke in support of the ban. “You can’t kill a roomful of people with a coffee mug. Sorry,” Kerch said.
Tom VandenBerk, of Highland Park, referred to the Newtown, Conn. shooting. “We do not need Sandy Hook in Highland Park,” VandenBerk said. “People are being slaughtered because of assault weapons, because of an unregulated industry that has taken over this country in fear.”
Resident Steve Sheffey drew some jeers for his reaction to the idea that the local assault weapons ban could result in legal action against the city.
“We in Highland Park should be proud if this ordinance is challenged, and we should be proud that our tax dollars are spent defending an ordinance that was designed to protect our families, our children, and our community,” Sheffey said. “There is no legitimate reason for anyone to own an assault weapon. The sole purpose of assault weapons is to kill people.”
Hate to tell this resident Sheffey but he doesn’t get to decide what type of weapon I choose for my personal defense. There’s a little thing called the Second Amendment that allows me to make the choice for myself.