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April 10, 2000

Ryan Applauds Passage of Felony Penalties For Illegal Possession of a Firearm, Pledges To Sign Safe Neighborhood Package

SPRINGFIELD – Governor George H. Ryan today commended the Illinois House for voting to reinstate the illegal possession of a firearm as a felony crime and pledged to sign the bills reenacting Illinois’ Safe Neighborhoods Act.

The House passed House Bill 739 today on a 92-16 vote to reinstitute felony penalties for the illegal possession of a gun.

"I made a commitment to restoring the Safe Neighborhoods Act – and making Illinois a safer place to live and work, and this bill does that," Ryan said. "Without the Safe Neighborhoods law in force, many criminals caught with a loaded gun are being put back on the streets within hours after their arrest," he said.

Ryan strongly encouraged legislators to reach an agreement before the end of scheduled adjournment for spring session. "I want to again express my appreciation to legislators and other supporters of this legislation for their cooperation."

The proposal was sponsored by state Rep. Tom Cross, R-Yorkville, and Senate President James "Pate" Philip, R-Wood Dale and would create the "aggravated" unlawful use of a weapon, which gives prosecutors more flexibility in securing charges.

House Bill 739 seeks felony penalties for the illegal possession of a firearm if:

  • The firearm is uncased, loaded and immediately accessible.
  • The firearm is uncased, unloaded and ammunition for the weapon is immediately available.
  • The person with the firearm has no valid Firearms Owner Identification Card.
  • The person with the firearm was previously convicted of a felony as a juvenile.
  • The person with the firearm is committing a misdemeanor violation of the Cannabis Control Act or the Controlled Substances Act.
  • The person with the firearm is engaged in street-gang related activity.
  • The person with the firearm had an order of protection issued against him or her within the last two years.
  • The person with the firearm was engaged in the commission of a misdemeanor involving the use or threatened use of violence against another person or property.
  • The person with the firearm was under 21 years of age and in possession of a handgun unless the person is engaged in lawful activities under the Wildlife Code.

The Safe Neighborhoods Act originally passed by the General Assembly in 1994. Along with the provisions dealing with penalties for the unlawful use of weapons, the Safe Neighborhoods Act contained elements dealing with numerous crimes.

In December of 1999, the Illinois Supreme Court overturned the multi-faceted Safe Neighborhoods Act--on a technicality, not on the merits of the act--including the provision that made the illegal possession of a firearm a felony crime. The debate over this provision stalled the reenactment of the entire law. During the five years that the illegal possession of a firearm was a felony, the number of arrests for illegal weapons declined, as did the rate of violent crime in Illinois.

Most of the bills that contain language for the Safe Neighborhood’s Act--Senate Bills 1359, 1361, 1362, 1363, 1364 and 1365—have been approved by the House and Senate. Ryan said the Safe Neighborhoods Act contained many provisions important in winning the war on crime.

Under the other provisions of the Safe Neighborhoods Act:

  • Gang members convicted of intimidation or harassing jurors or witnesses get 10 years in prison – not five.
  • Judges can sentence gangbangers to extended terms for any felony crimes.
  • Gang members have to serve 120 hours of community service when they’re on probation.
  • Criminals convicted of committing a felony with a handgun get a minimum 15 years in prison – not six. Without the Act in place, criminals convicted of using a gun during a felony could be out on the street in three years.
  • Any person prohibited by law from possessing a firearm and caught with a gun will be charged with a felony – not a misdemeanor.
  • Sets penalties for gunrunning for illegally selling three or more weapons and raises penalty for selling guns on school property.
  • Anyone intentionally destroying the serial number on a firearm will be charged with a felony, not a misdemeanor.
  • Police cannot trade or sell confiscated guns, keeping them off the streets.
  • People out on bail who are caught in possession of a firearm are charged with a felony, not a misdemeanor.
  • A person charged with stalking or domestic battery who is out on bail must surrender all firearms in their possession.
  • The penalties are raised for the attempted murder or aggravated battery of a police officer, prison guard, fire fighter or paramedic.
  • The legal definitions of prostitution, solicitation, pandering, pimping and exploitation are strengthened.
  • Parents who knowingly allow their children to be sexually abused or force them into prostitution will be charged with a felony – not a misdemeanor.
  • Drunk drivers violating a restricted drivers permit or a judicial drivers permit must spend a minimum of seven days in jail or perform 30 hours of community service.
  • Convicted drunk drivers caught for DUI while their license is suspended or revoked must spend a minimum of 30 days in jail or perform 720 hours of community service.
  • Drunk drivers who commit a second DUI within five years of their first offense must spend two days in jail or perform 10 hours of community service.
  • The sentence for aggravated DUI is raised from four years to 12 years.
  • First-time drug offenders on probation must undergo drug tests and perform community service.


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