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Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013 12:01 am

Gunning for legislation

Back when Richard M. Daley was Chicago’s mayor, hizzoner would hold a big, splashy press conference every year with cops and prosecutors and crime victims to unveil his new state gun control legislation.

The Chicago media poobahs would shout their huzzahs, the NRA would fume and raise tons of money from angry members and then Daley would quietly go back to his job as mayor and nothing much would ever happen in Springfield.

Rahm Emanuel is not Rich Daley.

Mayor Emanuel’s Statehouse lobbyists are engaged in serious talks with the NRA and even the more strident Illinois State Rifle Association (something that Daley would never do, and vice versa) to try and work out a compromise on legislation to force convicted gun possession violators to remain in prison for a lot longer than they already are. Emanuel himself is said to be actively involved by phone.

It still remains to be seen whether Emanuel can succeed where Daley routinely failed. Some legislators said last week they believed the sides were closing in on a deal, but the NRA still had some objections.

The basic disagreement is over first-time offenders. Emanuel initially wanted some first-time gun possession offenders to do guaranteed prison time. The harsh reality is that too many people are getting light sentences for gun offenses, and then they’re coming out of prison to commit more gun crimes. The NRA, however, worries that otherwise innocent, law-abiding citizens who make a harmless mistake could wind up doing hard time.

One of the compromises currently on the table would force state’s attorneys to initially charge some first-time offenders with a misdemeanor but allow prosecutors to go through a detailed “felony review” process which could result in much more severe criminal charges.

But the NRA frets that hard-line anti-gun Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez would abuse the process to lock too many of the wrong people behind bars.

Indeed, word from inside the talks is that the NRA brought up an example of a man with an out of state gun permit whom has been fighting off a Cook County felony weapons possession charge for two years. The charges were reportedly dropped when the state’s attorney was put on the spot during negotiations.

The NRA understandably worries that Alvarez, who once said “I don’t believe that people should own guns,” and “I would favor a law that no one could ever buy a gun,” will continue playing hardball with gun owners who don’t have criminal records.

The NRA also finds itself in the somewhat unusual position of being allied with several African-American lawmakers who oppose additional mandatory minimum bills after seeing thousands of their constituents disproportionately locked up under current mandatory minimum sentencing laws.

But all of this is the way things work on just about everything else. It’s how things eventually get done. People on all sides with strong positions sit down and find a way to compromise. But up until last spring’s concealed carry negotiations, which were forced on Springfield by a federal judge, that hadn’t really happened on gun-related issues.

If they do come to some agreement, the next hurdle will be Gov. Pat Quinn. The governor has historically been loath to offend African-American voters, so he has maintained an unusually low profile on Emanuel’s mandatory minimum proposals, not wanting to get caught in the middle.

Quinn told the Illinois Radio Network that he wanted a ban on high capacity gun magazines included in the sentencing bill discussions. Such a provision would be a deal-killer for the NRA and Quinn surely knows this.

The danger here is if Quinn tries to use a carefully crafted bill to grandstand on gun control, as he did this past summer with his splashy veto of the concealed carry bill after refusing to participate in the negotiations. If Gov. Quinn uses his amendatory veto powers to insert the magazine ban, he could quite probably tube the whole thing.

Then again, if somebody is murdered by a repeat gun offender after Quinn vetoes the bill, the heat on the governor would be enormous, and a vindictive Emanuel would undoubtedly fan the flames. Quinn needs to tread carefully here.

Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and http://capitolfax.com

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