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Gun rights supporters rally at state Capitol

Published: Thursday, March 7, 2013 1:15 a.m. CST

SPRINGFIELD – As gun violence commands the political spotlight this year, Illinois gun rights supporters turned out in force at the state Capitol on Wednesday with a message emblazoned across yellow T-shirts: “Don’t Tread on My Right to Self-Defense.”

They squeezed into the rotunda for their annual lobbying day only moments after Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn delivered his budget speech, an event that drew a sizable crowd of its own. The gun rights backers let lawmakers know they oppose both a proposed ban on military-style assault weapons and heavy restrictions on legislation to allow carrying concealed weapons in public.

Quinn wants both, but the Legislature is divided along regional lines on the issues. Lawmakers from Chicago and nearby suburbs have fought for gun control, while downstate lawmakers and some suburbanites oppose legislation they feel might infringe on the rights of hunters.

The legislative fight over the shape of gun proposals has been playing out the last several weeks with advocates on both sides of the issue, but on Wednesday, thousands swelled around the statehouse lawn’s showcase statue of Abraham Lincoln as they chanted, “Concealed carry now.”

The concealed weapons issue has gained prominence since a federal appeals court ruled in December that Illinois should come up with legislation by early June to allow people to carry guns in public. Illinois is the only state in the nation without some form of concealed carry, a ban that lasted for decades.

At the rally, Republican state Sen. Sam McCann drew heavy cheers as he thanked gun rights advocates, including the Illinois State Rifle Association and the National Rifle Association.

“Government of the people, by the people and for the people requires you – the people – not the politicians,” McCann said.

The outpouring came a day after House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Democrat, held a floor debate on the proposed assault weapons ban, a legislative move that allowed lawmakers to vote piece by piece on amendments. A week earlier, Madigan held a marathon hearing on concealed weapons before the full House. Lawmakers tacked on amendments that would ban carrying guns in public in places that ranged from commuter buses and trains to casinos.

But both gun proposals are a work in progress, and neither side appears to have gained a clear upper hand. Republicans have refused to cast votes, saying the hearings are a political game designed to put GOP lawmakers on controversial roll calls that could be used against them in their next campaigns.

“At the end of the day, that’s not fruitful,” said Republican state Rep. Dennis Reboletti, a former prosecutor.

Even so, Democratic Rep. Brandon Phelps, a gun rights champion, said the votes so far on the gun bills have represented tests of what might be acceptable to various legislators.

Phelps acknowledged that both sides are a “long way from a compromise” in concealed carry and assault weapons legislation but are trying to find a middle ground. Phelps said an assault weapons ban proposed by Rep. Eddie Acevedo, a Chicago Democrat and police officer, would represent an “all-out attempt to ban most firearms.”

In turn, Acevedo said the gun issue is “not a game” and that he is “trying to make a compromise with the NRA” that can pass.

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