State Government Illustration

State Government Illustration (Nancy Stone / Chicago Tribune)

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Pat Quinn rallied today with pro-gun control forces on the Capitol’s front lawn, saying Illinois needs tougher gun laws because he’s “tired of going to funerals.”

Standing before the showcase statue of Abraham Lincoln, the Democratic governor urged gun control advocates to press the case for a ban on the sale of semi-assault weapons and high-capacity gun magazines. Both are difficult to pass in the General Assembly due to differing regional philosophies on the gun control issue.

The governor also called on lawmakers working on concealed weapons legislation to support meaningful restrictions on how and where guns could be carried in public. Quinn encouraged lawmakers to follow the “best traditions of Abraham Lincoln’s democracy” and “listen to what people are saying all over our state, all over our country --- that it’s time for gun safety legislation.”

Quinn emphasized his point by referencing the senseless deaths in the neighborhoods of Chicago, at a schoolhouse in Newtown, Conn., at a theater in Aurora, Colo., and at a political event in Tuscon.

The gun issue is at the top of the Springfield agenda because a federal appeals court has ordered the state to pass concealed weapons legislation by June 9. Illinois is currently the only state in the nation that does not allow citizens to carry some form of concealed weapons. But the string of gun tragedies throughout the nation and high-profile shootings in Chicago have fueled a move by gun control advocates to attempt a weapons crackdown. An assault weapons ban and limit on high-capacity magazines face a tough political road, however.

Along with relatives of victims of gun violence, the Rev. Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Catholic Church in Chicago underscored the need for action now with two boxes containing what he said were more than 50,000 signatures of people wanting what they characterized as common-sense gun legislation.

He noted that, just last week, a package of tougher guns laws were approved in Connecticut, a state still reeling from the December massacre of 20 young children and six women at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

"Connecticut responded when their children got killed,” Pfleger told Quinn and the crowd. “Governor, we want the legislators to support you and stand with you and support the children of Illinois and save their lives."

Another speaker at the rally, Sen. Dan Kotowski, D-Park Ridge, contended the gun trade is the “last unregulated consumer industry in the United States of America.”

“Teddy bears are more regulated than guns,” Kotowski said. “Teddy bears are tested for sharp edges, points, flammability, loose parts. How many children died from teddy bears last year? How many? It’s because we took the steps to protect children from unsafe teddy bears. Why can we not do the same with guns?”

The anti-gun rally drew up to 600 supporters, according to state estimates. Last month, a rally in support of gun rights that drew a much larger crowd.

While gun regulation supporters rallied outside, House lawmakers inside the Statehouse voted in favor of a measure that would create a mental health first aid program in which certified trainers could teach members of the public how to recognize and help someone who could be dealing with a mental health disorder or addiction.

Backed by lawmakers who referenced the mental health condition of the shooter in Newtown, the bill passed 105-8. It now moves to the Senate.

Sponsoring Rep. Esther Golar, D-Chicago, told lawmakers to spread the word of this proposal through “town hall meetings and in your newsletters” because people need information about mental health issues in society.