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Thursday, May 1, 2003 02:20 pm

Playing with firearms

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Two bills winding their way through the Illinois legislature would legalize the use of handguns during the regular deer season. Currently, handgun permits are issued to hunters only on a county-by-county basis during a special three-day season in January.

One of the bills' sponsors, Todd Seiben, a Republican state senator from the northwestern Illinois town of Geneseo, believes the measure would be a simple courtesy to otherwise law-abiding citizens.

"A lot of handgun deer hunters who I've talked to have said they would like to hunt deer during the fall when the weather is nice and when there is a better opportunity to take trophy bucks," he says. "In my area, the weather during the fall deer season is nice, but by January it is really nasty."

Critics think the bill is playing with firearms. Chris Corsale of the Illinois Citizens for Handgun Control says, "It would very likely increase handgun ownership and accessibility in Illinois for reasons unjustified."

When Corsale's group was founded in 1975, gun control was considered a fringe issue--most legislators thought it too risky to take on the powerful National Rifle Association. But tragic incidents like the Columbine shootings and the Washington, D.C., sniper attacks have caused many Americans to rethink their right to bear arms.

Chicago and ten surrounding communities have some type of ban on the sale, possession, or manufacture of handguns. David Bayless, a spokesperson for the Chicago Police Department, says, "We are trying to get guns off the street and are generally opposed to any legislation that makes this more difficult."

"That is a completely different issue from deer hunting," responds Seiben. He calls hunting handguns "a major investment--you aren't talking about a Saturday-night special here." He also points to the amount of regulation already in place: Hunters need a gun license and a deer permit. "You really have to jump through hoops to do this."

Though some in law enforcement are adamantly opposed to the bills, Limey Nargelenas, manager of governmental relations for the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, says his group has taken a "neutral" stance.

Respective bills have already passed the House and Senate, and legislation is currently being prepared for a final vote. If some form of the proposal lands on the governor's desk, Blagojevich will sign it, says spokesman Tom Schafer.

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