SPRINGFIELD – Gov. Pat Quinn’s push to ban semiautomatic weapons is again raising questions about the loss of manufacturing jobs in western Illinois.
A handful of gun manufacturers clustered near the Quad-Cities have threatened to leave the state when previous attempts to ban so-called assault weapons were floated by the governor, his predecessor or individual lawmakers.
Since 2008, however, only one of five companies has left the state. Les Baer Customs, which had about two dozen employs, crossed the Mississippi from its Hillsdale location and settled in LeClaire, Iowa.
Mark Westrom, owner of Geneseo-based ArmaLite, said the manufacturers are still developing a strategy to deal with the latest calls for a ban on the state and national level.
“We’re considering our actions,” Westrom told the Lee Enterprises Springfield Bureau
The murder of 20 students and six staff at a Connecticut grade school Friday launched a national discussion about semiautomatic weapons, including a call by Quinn to get rid of them in Illinois.
The Chicago Democrat doesn’t want to ban the manufacture of the guns. Rather, he wants to stop the sale of the weapons to civilians.
“There is no place in Illinois for weapons designed to rapidly fire at human targets at close range,” spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said. “A statewide ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines is good public safety policy that would help prevent future tragic incidents in Illinois.”
But, prior attempts have bogged down in Springfield over issues of the Second Amendment and the potential loss of jobs.
Gun makers in Illinois account for several hundred jobs, including 70 at ArmaLite, which makes .50-caliber rifles and other weapons.
Westrom said the issue of semiautomatic weapons may be better addressed by Congress and the president. And, he said, there should not be a rush to judgment.
“We don’t even know all of the pieces of the tragedy,” Westrom said.
State Rep. Pat Verschoore, a Milan Democrat, also said Illinois may not have to act if a ban is put in place in Washington D.C.
“I think we should just wait and see what happens on a national level,” Verschoore said.
Westrom also said a debate on how to handle the issue of mentally ill people and guns is needed.
“This is one of those unfortunate situations where an irresponsible or sick individual has caused a huge problem for us,” Westrom said.
Last summer, Quinn tried to use his veto power to ban assault weapons by rewriting a bill that focused on ammunition sales. The legislature overrode his changes.
In addition to ArmaLite, other gun manufacturers based in Illinois include Lewis Machine and Tool of Milan, Rock River Arms of Colona and Springfield Armory of Geneseo.
Although Quinn earlier said he wants the legislature to take up the issue during the upcoming lame duck session in early January, Anderson said last week the issue may take several months to work through.
“A ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines would help ensure citizens can go about their lives without the threat of violence,” Anderson said.