Setback in fight for tougher gun penalties

There has been a setback in the push for tougher penalties for people who commit gun crimes.
November 7, 2013 3:37:06 PM PST
There has been a setback in the push for tougher penalties for people who commit gun crimes.

African-American lawmakers in the Illinois House used a procedural measure to delay the proposed legislation. The bill to set higher mandatory minimum sentences for illegal gun possession was stopped cold after a rarely used parliamentary move by the Black Caucus chairman.

"It was not a parliamentary trick. It was a parliamentary procedure that we have in the Illinois House rulebook," said State Rep. Ken Dunkin, (D) Chicago.

Dunkin complained that sponsor Mike Zalewski had not answered all the questions raised during Wednesday's committee hearing.

"I don't understand why one member has the right to dictate to the other members that this isn't a good public policy," said Zalewski, (D) Riverside.

The gun crimes measure is backed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez. A key downstate lawmaker, Brandon Phelps, said he'd support the bill after sponsors agreed that first-time offenders would not have to serve the proposed 85 percent of a minimum three-year prison term.

"I don't want to let them serve one day in jail because there are going to be people who make mistakes," said Phelps, (D) Harrisburg.

Dunkin says his caucus wants the bill to include, among other things, money for rehabilitation and said he worries that it still could send some undeserving people to prison.

"The collateral damage is going to be overwhelming. It's going to wrap up too many innocent citizens," Dunkin said.

Governor Pat Quinn expressed his reservations Wednesday.

"I think it's important that when you deal with criminal justice that it be done in a comprehensive way," he said.

The governor - up for re-election next year - pays close attention to the legislative Black Caucus. The members demand a longer, more detailed debate on the issue despite what the mayor wants.