Gun Legislation Fails in Illinois

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

( - Legislation making illegal gun possession a felony failed to pass on Wednesday in the state Senate. The failure extends a deadlock that began when the Illinois high court struck down the old law on technical grounds.

The Safe Neighborhoods Act fell five votes short of the 36 needed to pass, despite Republican Governor George Ryan's prediction that he had the votes. The Senate then adjourned, continuing the standoff that has seen the state's two most powerful Republicans butting heads.

Wire service reports say that the Illinois House already had approved the measure, and Ryan had been lobbying hard for its passage.

The legislation would have allowed felony charges against gang members and other criminals. Other violators -- such as hunters who improperly stored their weapons -- could get probation and eventually have their records cleared.

Senate Republicans objected to making possession a felony -- and to Ryan's pressure. GOP Senator Ed Petka urged lawmakers to reject the measure as a ``declaration of independence of the legislative branch.''

The sweeping Safe Neighborhoods Act was passed five years ago and made illegal possession a felony punishable by up to three years in prison for a first offense.

But the law was struck down for technical reasons earlier this month by the state Supreme Court, and illegal weapons possession once more became a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

The governor repeatedly has called lawmakers into special session to get the law reinstated, but all proposals have failed in the Senate.

Senate President James "Pate" Philip, a Republican, has said he wants illegal possession to be a misdemeanor for first-time offenders. Philip said he is trying to protect law-abiding gun owners from being harshly punished for making a simple mistake in how they transport weapons.