Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Wednesday July 17th, 2013, 2:54pm

Chicago City Council Approves New Assault Weapons Ban, Student Safety Measure

By a 46-0 vote, the Chicago City Council gave the OK to both strengthen the city’s assault weapons ban and impose tougher penalties for gun offenses near schools and along Safe Passage routes at a special session Wednesday.

Chicago lawmakers were up against a Friday deadline for state municipalities to pass an updated or new assault weapons ban as part of Illinois’ concealed-carry bill, which became law last week. The state had to put new legislation on the books following a federal appeals court ruling back in December that found Illinois’ last-in-the-nation ban on concealed carry unconstitutional.

“We stepped up to our responsibility today, [but] it does not end when we adjourn,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel told the council members following the unanimous vote.

Chicago already has an assault weapons ban in place, which prohibits the sale, import, transfer and possession of the guns as well as high capacity magazines. The tweaks approved Wednesday expand the ban to additional types of guns, including any semiautomatic handgun with a fixed capacity of more than 15 rounds. Semiautomatic rifles or handguns with a detachable magazine and at least one military feature, such as pistol grips and telescoping stocks, are also banned under the new ordinance. Additionally, semiautomatic rifles with a fixed capacity of more than 10 rounds and any shotgun with a revolving cylinder are now on the list.

The updated provisions come with the same penalties as the existing ban for possessing the weapons, which include a $1,000 to $5,000 fine as well as 90 to 180 days in jail.

The updated measure is not a “magic wand” that will cure all of the city’s violence, Emanuel said, but it would have been “irresponsible” for the city not to take action during the state bill's 10-day window for municipalities to add or change assault weapons legislation.

“We all have a role to play in building safe communities, and that includes keeping weapons designed for the battlefield off our streets and punishing those who carry or use weapons around school children with stiff penalties,” Emanuel said in an earlier statement.

Ald. Latasha Thomas (17th) said there is "absolutely no need for assault weapons."

"None," she said. "The only thing it does is kill people."

Ald. Dick Mell (33rd) also took the opportunity to speak out against the weapons at one of his last council meetings before he retires.

“I wonder if these people who buy these think they’ve got a Taliban living two doors away from them,” Mell said. “For the life of me, what does an individual want with a gun like that? It makes absolutely no sense.”

Aldermen also expressed disappointment with the state legislature’s failure to pass a more comprehensive concealed carry measure, adding that it needs to be strengthened. Gov. Pat Quinn tried to add more changes and restrictions to the bill, HB 183, such as preventing people from carrying guns in establishments that serve any alcohol, but the legislature voted to override his proposals.

“Booze and bullets don’t mix,” Ald. Ed Burke (14th) said, adding that the legislation should have allowed places that serve alcohol to opt out of having guns in their establishments if they so desired.

Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) said the city of Chicago is doing what it can to strengthen its legislation that will keep citizens safe, but “we don’t bear all the responsibility.”

“We know fully well that these ordinances are not going to stop the violence,” Ald. James Cappleman (46th) added. “There is a culture of violence that needs to be addressed, and it needs to be addressed on many, many different levels.”

Aldermen also blasted the National Rifle Association (NRA), which made a presence at a committee hearing on the ordinances Tuesday.

At the hearing, NRA lobyist Todd Vandermyde told the committee members, “I’ve got more time with a fully automatic weapon in my hands than the majority of your police officers ever will have. I could probably out-shoot most of your cops.”

Emanuel said at Wednesday’s special session that the NRA might have “sway” in Springfield, but “not in this city council.” The NRA is welcome to speak, he said, but its “values do not reflect the values of the city.”

The council also unanimously agreed to ramp up penalties for gun violations in new school safety zones, which will be active 1,000 feet from a school or nearby park, on buses and along Safe Passage routes. These safety zones would be in effect during school days from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., or an hour after school activities end, whichever is later. Anyone convicted of carrying a gun, ammunition or other “dangerous weapons” inside a school saftey zone can face fines ranging from $1,000 to $20,000 depending on whether they are a first-time or multiple-time offender. The ordinance would also require at least a mandatory 30-day jail sentence, but provides room for up to six months of jail time. A two-time offender would face 90 days in jail at a minimum, while three-time offenders would see a mandatory six-month jail sentence.

The move comes as a means to help safeguard some 30,000 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students who will be affected by the closing of 50 schools. Following the Chicago Board of Education's vote in May to shutter the schools, CPS also announced plans to ramp up its Safe Passage program with 600 more workers in attempts to keep children safe as they travel to and from new schools in the upcoming academic year. 

Mell lauded the Safe Passage program, saying it allows students to think about their education or their school lessons instead of worrying about dodging gangbangers.

The new ordinance “saves our children from these thoughtless people committing these atrocious attacks,” Thomas added.

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