SPRINGFIELD -- To say that firearms are a big part of Jim West’s life would be an understatement.

SPRINGFIELD -- To say that firearms are a big part of Jim West’s life would be an understatement.


West, a retired Department of Corrections employee, volunteers at Siddens Indoor Shooting Range & Gun Shop in Rochester, helping the owner behind the counter and teaching National Rifle Association pistol classes.


West said he has been involved in shooting activities with his dad and his son, and he enjoys teaching people how to shoot.


“It really runs the whole spectrum for me. It’s not just one aspect of gun ownership,” West said.


On the opposite side of the issue is Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago. Originally from Florida, Cassidy said she grew up in a setting where guns were a way of life, and she empathizes with hunters and others who shoot for sport.


“But I’ve spent 15 years in the criminal justice system seeing what guns are doing to my community,” Cassidy said. “I absolutely see no legitimate purpose for handguns. I just don’t.”


Cassidy has signed on as a sponsor to a number of legislative proposals that gun rights advocates like West oppose, including a 2 percent tax on ammunition and creation of a statewide handgun registration.


The divide between West and Cassidy on the issue of guns in Illinois is a divide marked by ideology, regionalism, and very strong emotions.


Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, said the number of gun bills moving through the legislative process has gone “from five or six in the ‘80s” to 124 bills his organization is keeping tabs on in the current session.


The aspects of gun rights that have garnered the most attention this spring session are the issues of concealed weapons and handgun registration.


Concealed carry


Illinois remains the only state in the union that does not allow residents to carry concealed weapons.  But it’s not for lack of trying.


A bill to bring concealed carry to Illinois failed, but just barely, in the House last spring.


Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Norris City, the chief sponsor of that proposal, is trying again with House Bill 5745, which was approved by the House Agriculture & Conservation Committee Wednesday.


“I think we’re very close. I think we’re the closest we’ve ever been,” Phelps said about his new bill’s chances.


“We’re the only state (that bans concealed carry). If it was so bad, why isn’t there any other states trying to repeal this? It works,” Phelps said. “Crime has gone down everywhere this has gone into effect.


 


Regional, ideological divides


“If it wasn’t for Chicago, we would have had concealed carry a long time ago,” said Jim Butler, president of the Sangamon County Rifle Association.


Traditionally, legislators from Chicago and the surrounding counties tend to favor tighter gun regulations. Legislators from everywhere else in Illinois usually favor more gun rights.


Party lines are not, however, a sure-fire indicator as to a legislator’s stance on guns. Kelly and Sen. John Sullivan of Rushville are both Democrats, but Sullivan’s views are the quite opposite of Kelly’s when it comes to guns.


Sullivan, along with other downstate Democratic Sens. Dave Koehler of Peoria and Bill Haine of Alton, began circulating an online petition to oppose gun registration on Monday.


Cassidy is the lead sponsor of House Bill 5167, which would put a 2 percent tax on ammunition, with the money being spent to pay for trauma centers in high-crime areas. Cassidy has described the cost as being “a penny a bullet.”


West compared the idea to people having to pay a nickel more for a gallon of gas because of people who drink and drive.


“Where do you get the logic that you drive responsibly and I shoot responsibly, but I need to pay a tax for those who don’t? It’s nonsense,” West said.


Cassidy said her bill targets the root cause of the violence she sees in her community, which is the bullets and the guns, not people.


“This is about making our streets safer. This is not about singling out people who are or are not worthy of our care,” Cassidy said.


Gun registration


Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced on Feb. 10 he intended to push for statewide handgun registration, though he acknowledged that the proposal plan will be politically difficult to pass.


A registry would help the Chicago Police Department trace guns that come from outside the city, Emanuel said. Chicago has a gun registry, but the state does not.


Statewide registration would be required by House Bill 5831, which has been approved by the House Executive Committee. A gun owner would have to pay a fee – ultimately $65 -- to register his or her weapon. Re-registration, required every five years, would cost $25 per gun.


West said initial registration of his guns would cost him hundreds, if not thousands of dollars.


But gun rights advocates also view registration as being an affront to the freedoms guaranteed by the Second Amendment.


“Registration is the first step toward confiscation,” Butler said.


Chris Wetterich also contributed to this report. David Thomas can be reached at (217) 782-6292.


 


Gun lobby day today


Illinois Gun Owners Lobby Day will take place in Springfield today.


Participating groups include the Illinois State Rifle Association, IllinoisCarry.com, Guns Save Life,  Sangamon County Rifle Association, and the McHenry County Right To Carry Association.


Guest speaker will be Suzanna Hopp, a former Texas state legislator whose parents were among 23 people who were killed in a 1991 massacre at Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas. Hopp, who also was at the restaurant but did not have her handgun in her purse that day, escaped through a broken window.


The rally will begin at the Prairie Capital Convention Center, with the program set to begin at 11:30 a.m. Following a legislative briefing, participants will march to the Statehouse at 1 p.m. to talk to legislators.