As assault weapons ban faces challenges, lawmakers consider more gun restrictions


State Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz, D-Glenview, gets a fist bump Wednesday from Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul after she passed a measure giving his office authority to sue gun dealers for deceptive marketing practices. | Capitol News Illinois photo by Jerry Nowicki

SPRINGFIELD – Illinois lawmakers are considering further legislation restricting the possession and marketing of firearms, even as state and federal courts are weighing the constitutionality of an assault weapons ban passed in January.

On Wednesday, the Illinois House passed a bill that would subject firearms manufacturers and dealers to the state’s Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, restricting them from using certain marketing strategies.

“The Firearm Industry Responsibility Act, House Bill 218, is designed to hold gun manufacturers accountable and ensure that families devastated by gun violence have a path to justice in Illinois civil courts,” Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz, D-Glenview, the bill’s lead sponsor, said during floor debate.

If passed, dealers, manufacturers and others involved in the firearms industry could be held civilly liable if they market any firearm, accessory or component to people under the age of 18 or in a way that appears to support or encourage unlawful militia activity.

They also could be held liable if they “knowingly create, maintain, or contribute to a condition in Illinois that endangers the safety or health of the public by conduct either unlawful in itself or unreasonable under all circumstances, including failing to establish or utilize reasonable controls.”

“Reasonable controls” would include procedures to prevent the sale of weapons to “straw purchasers” or to people who are prohibited under federal law from possessing firearms.

The bill would allow suits to be filed by the attorney general, state’s attorneys or any individual. It was backed by Attorney General Kwame Raoul, who sat next to Gong-Gershowitz during floor debate.

“The Firearms Industry Responsibility Act will clarify my office’s ability to use the Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, which is a primary tool available to hold businesses accountable for fraudulent or deceptive practices through civil litigation,” Raoul said in a news release. “It is how my office has protected the public from opioid manufacturers, vaping companies, tobacco companies and predatory lenders.”

Gong-Gershowitz said the bill was needed so that judges don’t mistakenly assume that the industry is exempt from civil suits under the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, or PLCAA. That’s a 2005 federal law that says dealers and manufacturers cannot be sued when their products are used in a crime.

Republicans, however, argued that the bill would be unconstitutional and would quickly be struck down by federal courts.

“What we have here is, at best, a constitutionally questionable bill that is going to require our state to expend resources in defending it because it’s already been said that a challenge is going to come,” said Rep. Dan Ugaste, R-Geneva. “It’s happened in every other state that’s passed this legislation.”

The bill passed the House on a partisan vote of 71-40 and was sent to the Senate for consideration. But it may not be the only gun-related bill lawmakers consider in the waning days of the spring session.

On Friday, the House also passed House Bill 676 by Rep. Maura Hirschauer, D-Batavia. That bill contains several provisions, including one that would require people who are subject to a domestic violence order of protection to surrender their weapons to a local law enforcement agency. Current law only requires them to transfer their weapons to someone with a valid Firearm Owners Identification card.

The bill also would create a task force to study the feasibility of requiring gun owners to carry liability insurance. It passed on a vote of 70-36 and now awaits action in the Senate.

The efforts in Illinois to impose more restrictions on gun ownership and gun sales come at a time when the U.S. Supreme Court, dominated by conservatives, has taken a much more expansive view of the Second Amendment than in the past.

State officials are currently waiting to learn whether Justice Amy Coney Barrett will grant an emergency restraining order to block enforcement of the assault weapons ban while a challenge to that law is being appealed.

Hirschauer, however, said in an interview that she and other supporters of gun control in the General Assembly are confident they are doing the right thing.

“I think it’s really important to remember who we’re fighting for right now, and it’s survivors and families affected by domestic violence, and it’s my job to craft the strongest policy that will keep people safe,” she said. “I believe we’re doing that and it will hold up to judicial scrutiny.”

But Republican Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer, of Jacksonville, said in an interview that he doesn’t believe the gun control measures Democrats are pushing through will reduce gun violence.

“The reason why a lot of gun owners don’t want any type of regulation on guns is because that’s always the first step. And we’re seeing that here,” he said. “As I said (Wednesday) in debate, we seem to want to go after everybody but the criminal who’s committing the crime.”

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