Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed into law this week a bill that aims to stop the flow of illegal guns from other states with more lax firearms laws by coming down hard on gun traffickers. However, civil liberties advocates question how effective the new law will be.
"We must stand up and help our kids and our communities find safety from violence," said Governor Rauner in a press release announcing the signing of HB 6303.
The new law makes it a felony to bring guns into Illinois with the intent to sell them by a person who has not been issued a Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) card by the state.
Under the new law, an individual convicted of gun trafficking will face from 15 to 30 years in prison. Previously, the offense carried as little as a year in jail.
"Children are often in the crossfire. They’re vulnerable and impressionable. They deserve to see better things in the world,” Rauner said. “They deserve to feel safe in their own homes. They should not fear that guns will take the life of their friends, their family members, or even themselves. They should not live in fear or have their innocence shattered."
The governor said that because this law exempts anyone with a FOID card from being targeted it ensures that guns will not be taken out of the hands of anyone that safely and legally carries a firearm.
The Governor signed the bill at the Illinois State Police crime lab in Chicago and was joined by House Republican Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) and Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont), the chief legislative sponsors of the bill.
"425 people have been murdered by firearms in Chicago this year and another 2,320 have been shot and wounded. Each weekend in Chicago is bloodier than the last," House Republican Leader Durkin said. "Many of the shootings involved illegally acquired guns by Chicago street gangs."
A report from the Chicago Mayor’s office in 2014 found that nearly 60% of illegal guns recovered in the city from 2009 to 2013 were first sold out of state. The largest percentage of illegal guns came from Indiana, which accounted for 19%.
Another report from The Trace, citing data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, found similar results — of the 10,406 illegal guns recovered in Chicago, the most came from neighboring states Indiana (3,269), Mississippi (1,002) and Wisconsin (898).
President Obama also referred to these statistics in a speech last year about crime in Chicago and illegal guns.
“There are those who criticize any gun safety reforms by pointing to my hometown as an example,” Obama said. “The problem with that argument, as the Chicago Police Department will tell you, is that 60 percent of guns recovered in crimes come from out of state. You’ve just got to hop across the border.”
Obama’s speech garnered a response from Indiana Governor Mike Pence, who was critical of the president’s comments aimed at Illinois’s neighboring states.
“Blaming Chicago’s crime problems on Indiana is unfortunate and inaccurate,” said Matt Lloyd, a spokesman for Pence.
In a statement Tuesday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the legislation “a step in the right direction.”
“We must continue to build upon this new law...to strengthen sentencing for the repeat gun offenders who are driving violence on our streets,” Emanuel said.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois has expressed opposition to the bill, arguing that it does little “to stem the flow of illegal guns in Illinois, all while advancing long, mandatory sentences that have clogged our prisons and broken our criminal justice system.”
The ACLU says that it is already a crime punishable under federal law to buy a gun from someone other than a federally licensed dealer and transfer it across state lines. That offense carries a maximum penalty of ten years in prison.
“HB 6303’s maximum penalties are twice that,” ACLU spokesman Ed Yohnka said in an email to BuzzFeed News
The ACLU adds that they believe the FOID card exemption is a “huge loophole” because it excludes those with licenses from criminal liability who purchase guns out of state then resell them in Illinois.
“Isn't this the prototypical straw purchaser?” Yohnka said. “What good public policy reason is there for excluding them?”