Miller: Rahm, NRA may be close on gun control bill
By Rich Miller October 28, 2013 9:08PM
Updated: December 1, 2013 6:49AM
Back when Richard M. Daley was Chicago’s mayor, hizzoner would hold a big, splashy news conference every year with cops and prosecutors and crime victims to unveil his new gun control legislation.
The Chicago media poobahs would shout their huzzahs, the National Rifle Association would fume and raise tons of money from angry members and then Daley would quietly go back to his job and nothing would ever happen on the issue in Springfield.
Rahm Emanuel is not Rich Daley.
Emanuel’s Statehouse lobbyists are engaged in serious talks with the NRA and the more strident Illinois State Rifle Association (something Daley would never do and vice versa) to try to work out a compromise on legislation to force convicted gun violators to remain in prison a lot longer than they do now. Emanuel 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 violators to do guaranteed prison time. The harsh reality is that too many people are getting light sentences for gun offenses and 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 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 review process that could result in 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 up too many of the wrong people. Word from inside the talks is that the NRA brought up an example of a man with an out-of-state gun permit who had been fighting a Cook County felony weapon charge for two years.
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 black lawmakers who oppose more mandatory-minimum bills after seeing thousands of their constituents disproportionately incarcerated under such sentencing laws.
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 court, that hadn’t happened on gun-related issues.
If they do come to some agreement, the next hurdle will be Gov. Pat Quinn, who is loathe to offend black voters and has kept 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 summer with his splashy veto of the concealed-carry bill after refusing to participate in the negotiations. If Quinn uses his amendatory veto power to insert the magazine ban, he could blow up the whole deal.
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 also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.