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Guns and gay marriage make strange bedfellows in Illinois

1 year, 6 months ago by Ben Yount, Illinois Watchdog

Is it the politics of personal conviction or pragmatism?

Something about Illinois’ debate over guns and gay marriage has lawmakers in the Land of Lincoln making some unique arguments.

“Local control, that will cover us both,” Anne Williams, a second term Chicago Democrat, snapped to another lawmaker during Tuesday’s debate over gun control.

Williams is one of many Chicago lawmakers who want Illinois to give the city and Cook County the authority to write its own gun laws. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled Illinois’ blanket ban on concealed carry in unconstitutional, and a new law must be written.

“When we talk about guns, we have to recognize the incredible diversity of our state, Williams said Wednesday. “We have Chicago and we have incredibly rural areas.”

Williams, however, didn’t want to explain what she thought about local control over state funding for education, or social services, or how Illinois’ road projects are divvied up.

“That’s interesting,” is all Williams would say.

“If she were for more local control on a lot of issues, I’d be right there with her,” said Mike Bost, a southern Illinois Republican and the target of Williams’ remarks.

“But when you’re talking about concealed carry, it doesn’t work,” Bost said. Gun owners can travel across city or county lines.

Bost is quick to say that Chicago often drives laws that effect the rest of the state. He points to the state’s smoking ban, which started the plan that allows cities to adopt their own rules.

“Then they were back the next year, saying ‘We need a statewide ban’ and I didn’t vote for it,” Bost added.

Bost said gun laws are different, and they must run statewide.

But ask both Williams and Bost about the state’s role in allowing two men or two women to marry, and the conversation changes.

Bost did not vote to send to the House legislation allowing same-sex couples to marry.

He said his vote was not so much about the role of government, but about faith and representing the people who sent him to Springfield.

“Our title is representative,” Bost said. “So we are here to represent our district.”

Williams, who fully supports the marriage equality legislation, didn’t say whether she believed counties should be able to opt out.

“People across the state are realizing they know gay people, too,” Williams did say. “When you make something real, it changes people’s lives.”

Jim Nowlan is a former Illinois lawmaker and current Senior Fellow with the University of Illinois Institute of Government and Public Affairs. He said lawmakers are not so much changing their views on the role of government when it comes to gay marriage or gun control. Rather, Nowlan said, lawmakers are simply trying to get something done.

“The Dems may be the big government party, but they are getting no help at the federal level,” Nowlan said “So the local is about all that’s left to them.”

Nowlan said while some libertarian Republicans will support gay marriage because they don’t think the government should tell people how to live, “conservative Republicans tend to be more for providing order, as they see it. And so they will be willing to use government on social issues to achieve their objectives.”

Nowlan said lawmakers who lean on government when they need to are not so much hypocritical as they are trying to “get things done.”

Chicago Democrat Greg Harris, the author of Illinois’ marriage equality legislation, said people look at government’s role on guns and gay marriage in a different way than taxes and the budget.

“If you look at what we’re talking about, we are talking about the core principles of our society,” Harris said. “The 2nd Amendment, the right to equal protection under the law. These are not talking point issues, they require real solutions."

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