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By Jeff Knox

Illinois has been a gun rights battleground for many years, this year in particular. The Illinois State Rifle Association and NRA have, with the help of the grassroots in the State, beaten back a number of terrible anti-gun bills that were strongly supported by Governor Blagojevich and powerful Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. The troops in Illinois are to be commended for their valiant efforts in those fights.

And then there was SB57.

SB57 was a bill brought forward by ISRA and supported by NRA which attacked ISRA’s top-priority target--the State Police database of firearms transactions.

When it came to SB57, the legislative strategists of the ISRA and NRA blundered in a manner that is almost beyond comprehension and stabbed American gun-owners in the back in the process. Harsh words but well earned.

So fervent was ISRA’s desire to do away with firearms transaction records, they struck a deal with the State’s leading gun control group to garner wider support by adding a second aspect to the bill: background checks on all firearms purchases at gun shows.

Yes, Illinois State Rifle Association and NRA put forward a bill to close the infamous “gun show loophole” that NRA and gun-rights activists have always insisted doesn’t exist.

To make matters worse, ISRA downplayed the record keeping portion of the bill and focused on the pressing need to close the “gun show loophole”. And they did it with the same hyperbolic rhetoric that the anti-gunners use, suggesting that gun shows are arms bazaars for “drug lords, terrorists, and gang bangers”.

In repeated press releases, Richard Pearson, Executive Director of ISRA, stressed the need to “close the gun show loophole” making repeated references to terrorists and criminals acquiring guns at shows and stating that "The gun owners in this state would like to see the gun show loophole closed". It’s hard to imagine how Pearson and ISRA got to this point and even harder to understand how NRA continued to support the ISRA position in the face of such statements. But somehow that is exactly what happened.

Unfortunately, the end result in Illinois was all too predictable: Gun-owners lost.

The flaws in the ISRA strategy and execution are myriad and should have been obvious in the first brainstorming session rather than uncovered in the postmortem: First, this is a state which requires citizens to obtain a Firearm Owners ID card before they are allowed to own a gun. The State Police also having records of what guns those registered FOID holders have purchased, while troubling, doesn’t seem to warrant getting into bed with a gun control group.

Second, even though existing regulations in the state make the impact of a “loophole” bill negligible, getting into bed with a gun control group is like sleeping with vipers. Could ISRA have possibly been surprised when their “partners” reneged on the deal?

Third,-the anti-gun governor of Illinois has what is called amendatory veto power. He can edit a bill and send it back to the legislature where they can endorse his changes, override the changes, or do neither, in which case the entire bill is vetoed. Using a double-edged bill approach under those circumstances makes little sense.

Fourth, ISRA’s strong language in support of closing the “gun show loophole” gave cover to all of the politicians involved so they could support any bill that closed the “loophole” and shield themselves from election-year repercussions with ISRA’s own words. This resounding endorsement of the anti-gun portion of the bill also took away the option of pulling the bill if things started falling apart.

In the end, the bill passed. The governor immediately declared his intention of vetoing the records destruction portion of the bill but before he got the opportunity, the legislature passed a stand-alone “gun show loophole” bill. The Governor now says he will sign the stand-alone bill and veto the entire ISRA bill. It will all be history by the time you read this.

So the people of Illinois no longer need to worry about terrorists and “drug lords” arming themselves at gun shows and the Illinois State Rifle Association has done irreparable damage to the fight to preserve gun shows in this country.

Note: I exchanged e-mails with Richard Pearson at ISRA prior to writing this column but was unable, due to time constraints and deadlines, to speak with him in-depth about the matter before going to print. My impression from his note was that his desire to destroy the transaction database blinded him to the minefield into which he was stumbling. Why NRA or ISRA board members didn’t intervene is a mystery to me. Perhaps I’ll understand more after speaking with him.

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