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April 7, 2000

Ryan Praises Agreement To Make Illegal Possession Of A Firearm A Felony Crime

SPRINGFIELD - Governor George H. Ryan today praised legislators, law enforcement and local government officials for agreeing to legislation that will reinstate the illegal possession of a firearm as a felony crime - a compromise that ends a five-month dispute over the reenactment of Illinois' Safe Neighborhoods Act.

The Illinois Senate passed the legislation today 58-0 and the proposal awaits action in the House.

"This agreement ensures that carrying a gun illegally will carry a felony charge. For five years the Safe Neighborhoods Act was a key to making our communities safer and very soon the law will be back in place," Ryan said. "I told legislators that I did not want them to adjourn the spring session before resolving this issue. I'm very pleased that we were able to work out this language and very proud of the General Assembly for working cooperatively on this new act."

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

Under this UUW language, the illegal possession of a firearm would be a felony crime 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.

"I would like to thank the four legislative leaders, Attorney General Jim Ryan, Mayor Richard Daley, state's attorneys, police chiefs and public interest groups throughout the state for working hard to reach this compromise," Ryan added. "This measure is fair, comprehensive and will go a long way to keep our neighborhoods safe."

In December of 1999, the Illinois Supreme Court overturned the multi-faceted Safe Neighborhoods 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 on the street declined, as did the rate of violent crime in Illinois.


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