By Monique Garcia and Bill Lukitsch
As students across the country walked out of classrooms on Wednesday to protest gun violence, Democrats who control the Illinois Senate continued to push firearm restrictions, including bills to limit assault weapon purchases.
The action came one day after Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed legislation that would have established new state licensing requirements for gun shops, but an attempt to override him was put off until April.
Still, some lawmakers sought to seize on the calls for tougher gun regulations in the wake of the February high school shooting in Parkland, Fla., and the slaying of Chicago police Cmdr. Paul Bauer. They began the day with a bipartisan walkout in solidarity with students, departing the ornate Senate chamber to gather outside the Capitol. There, they tearfully read victims' names, and some held hands during several moments of silence.
"This doesn't need to happen, it shouldn't happen," said Sen. Melinda Bush, D-Grayslake. "We must do more to protect our children from being gunned down at school."
An hour later, lawmakers voted to ban the sale and possession of bump stocks and trigger cranks, devices that are used to speed up the rate at which a gun can fire. The House approved the bill weeks ago, but the Senate changed it to also allow towns and cities to enact local assault weapons bans. That power was repealed in 2013 as part of the state's concealed carry law.
Republican state Sen. Dale Righter of Mattoon called those changes a "poison pill" that shows Democrats don't want to work together to find common ground on gun control. Democratic state Sen. Kwame Raoul of Chicago countered that GOP lawmakers regularly clamor for allow local governments to make their own decisions. Raoul is one of eight Democratic attorney general candidates.
Four Republicans joined Democrats for a 37-16 vote for the bump stocks ban, sending it back to the House for further review.
Democrats also got help from two Republicans to ban the sale of assault weapons and .50-caliber rifles to people under 21. That bill also returns to the House after the Senate made changes aimed at preventing weapons in question from being taken away from people who already own them. Opponents contended young adults under the age of 21 should not have their Second Amendment rights infringed.
The only guns bill advanced Wednesday that would now head to Rauner's desk would put in place a 72-hour waiting period for those seeking to buy assault weapons, a "cooling off" period that's already law for handgun purchases. It passed by a 43-15 vote with no debate.
Left for another day is Democrats' attempt to override Rauner's veto of a new licensing and regulatory system for gun shops. The governor rejected the bill Tuesday, saying federal officials already license retailers.
State Sen. Dan Harmon, D-Oak Park, said he could not call an override vote Wednesday because the governor's office did not officially file veto paperwork with the Senate. He said that means the 15-day countdown to a deadline to act has yet to begin, so lawmakers can try when they return to the Capitol on April 10. The governor's office, though, said it filed the veto paperwork with the Secretary of State's office as it has many times before.
The state constitution says the governor should file his veto with the chamber where the bill got started unless lawmakers aren't in session. In that case, a veto must be filed with the Secretary of State. The Senate was in session Tuesday and Wednesday.
Lawmakers are taking several weeks off for next week's primary election and an annual spring break. That would buy Harmon time to build more support for an override, particularly among suburban Republicans who may be more inclined to vote in favor than their counterparts from Downstate. When first approved, the bill got 30 votes in the Senate. Harmon needs 36 votes to overturn Rauner.
Rauner on Wednesday called the student walkouts an appropriate way to honor the memory of those killed in Parkland, while disputing the suggestion that his veto of the licensing bill was politically motivated.
"We took the time to study that particular bill, we reviewed the detail of it, and we determined that it really created a massive level of expensive, onerous bureaucracy and really did virtually nothing to increase public safety," Rauner said.
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