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Cook County Board Bans Assault Weapons, Toughens Penalties

The Cook County Board of Commissioners today approved changes to the county’s assault weapons ban and toughened penalties for violations of the ordinance.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Commissioner Jesus G. “Chuy” Garcia (D-7th) and Commissioner Larry Suffredin (D-13th) sponsored amendments to the “Blair Holt Assault Weapons Ban,” named for the son of a Chicago police officer who was killed in a 2007 shooting while protecting a high school classmate. The changes update, define and expand various categories of assault weapons whose sale, possession or ownership are banned in Cook County. The amended ordinance sets out in great detail the specific weapons that are covered by the ban.

The County Board’s action follows recent approval of the state’s concealed carry law, which gives local governments a deadline by which they need to address changes in their own ordinances governing possession of guns.

“We must do what we can to stem the tide of gun violence and keep weapons with high levels of destructive capability out of circulation,” President Preckwinkle said. “This amended ordinance recognizes the challenges we face in Cook County and puts in place responsible and meaningful laws aimed at protecting our residents and law enforcement officers.”

The amended assault weapons ordinance will increase penalties for violators of its provisions. Any person found in violation shall be subject to a fine of between $1,000 and $5,000. The previous fines ranged from $500 to $1,000. A subsequent violation of the ordinance could bring a fine of up to $10,000. Individuals found in violation may still be sentenced for a jail term of up to six months.

The ordinance exempts any firearm that has been made permanently inoperable or is an “antique firearm,” or weapons designed specifically for Olympic target shooting events.

The assault weapons ban applies to all municipalities in Cook County unless a municipality has its own law on the books.

In a separate action, the Board also approved an ordinance proposed by President Preckwinkle and Commissioner Garcia that establishes guidelines and penalties concerning access to firearms and ammunition by minors.
The “Protection of Minors” ordinance prohibits the sale or transfer of any firearm or ammunition to a minor, defined in the ordinance as any person under the age of 21. It further sets specific rules that firearms owners must follow to secure weapons and prevent access to those weapons by minors, such as storing them in locked containers separate from ammunition or equipping them with trigger locks.

“Today’s headlines are filled with stories of homicides and suicides of young people, as well as children accidently shooting themselves or a sibling,” Garcia said. “It is our responsibility to ensure he most vulnerable in our society are safe. As an elected official I am sworn to protect them. The passing of the “Protection of Minors Ordinance” is yet another step in my strategy to develop a comprehensive public safety and anti-violence action agenda in Cook County.”

Penalties for violating the ordinance include a mandatory fine of $1,000 for the first offense and a fine of up to $2,000 for each repeat offense. The ordinance includes a provision that exempts access and use of a firearm by a minor in a lawful act of self-defense, in the defense of another person, or if a minor gains access to a firearm through unlawful entry.

Also exempted are law enforcement officers and members of the armed forces or National Guard while engaged in their official duties.
“This is a common sense approach to making sure children do not have unrestricted access to weapons and will hopefully prevent the kinds of incidents we hear about all too often, where youngsters find loaded weapons with tragic results,” President Preckwinkle said.

Both ordinances go into effect immediately.

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