CHICAGO - Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson has long called for tougher gun laws, and Thursday afternoon he took that demand to Springfield.
The police superintendent said it isn't an attack on legal gun owners. Instead, it's targeted at gang members who take advantage of gun laws.
Superintendent Johnson testified in Springfield at noon, speaking in support of legislation that would direct judges to impose harsher sentences on repeat gun offenders.
"There are 767 people who lost loved ones last year. We have to do something about it. You know, the notion that we should just sit on our hands wait is just absurd to me. So I'm pleased that it went well today," Johnson said.
The bill would increase the sentences for repeat gun offenders. Right now judges can sentence repeat offenders to a range of three to 14 years for unlawful possession of a weapon, The proposed law would increase the minimum to seven years.
Judges would be able to use their own discretion, but they might have to explain their decision if they depart from the stiffer sentence.
Valerie Weaver is a mother in mourning, who said her 20-year-old daughter Wilteeah Jones and her unborn granddaughter, who was to be named Maleah, would probably still be alive if there were stricter gun laws for repeat offenders. She believes that when the person who killed her family pulled the trigger, it was not the first time.
"I don't think that's the first killing he did, and it might not be the last. Until these laws are enforced there are going to be killings in Chicago," Weaver said.
Jones and her 20-year-old boyfriend Malek Bingham were among the seven people killed in Chicago in February on the deadliest day of 2017.
"They chased my baby down, a 9-month pregnant woman, and chased her down and killed her like nobody loved her. We loved her and miss her so much," Weaver said.
Chicago aldermen from violence-plagued wards were in Springfield to support the bill as well.
"Here's the bottom line: You've got these repeat offenders that shouldn't be on the street because they're gonna shoot again, and they gonna shoot again and they're gonna shoot again," said 22nd Ward Alderman Ricardo Munoz.
"This law, I do believe is right. I think the political situation is right. It's been worked through. But for the first time, Chicago and Illinois are going to go on record: If you are a repeat gun offender, you're goinna do the time for your crime," said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Opponents of the bill include State Senator Patricia Van Pelt from Chicago's West Side, who said the bill fails to address the drug problem in many low income neighborhoods which she said is driving the violence.
"We've got tons, we've got trucks of drugs coming into the inner city and no one's been arrested for it for decades. It's hard for me to believe that nobody, that you can't figure out that problem because that's where the violence is coming from," Van Pelt said.
Bill sponsor Senator Kwame Raoul of Hyde Park said guns are the problem and for him it's personal.
"As the father of a 19-year-old, we've got to do everything we can to confront this gun problem, and for those who say 'Well these people are just illegally carrying weapons, they haven't shot anybody yet,' I prefer not to wait until they shoot somebody," he said.
The committee voted to advance the law 6-5. The next vote will be in the State Senate, where lawmakers believe they have the votes to pass it. What is less sure is if the votes are in the House. It is possible the Senate will vote before the end of Thursday. It is unclear if the House will as well.