- The Washington Times - Friday, December 25, 2009

U.S. Senate candidates in Illinois walk carefully when discussing gun control, with most stressing support for the right to bear arms even if they favor some restrictions.

Gun ownership has been an ongoing issue in federal elections in Illinois, with officials trying to reduce violence in Chicago - where handguns are banned - on one side, and downstate hunters and sportsmen who oppose restrictions on the other.

Five Democrats and six Republicans, along with a Green Party candidate, are vying for their party’s nomination Feb. 2 to run for the Senate seat once held by President Obama. Some of the candidates responded to an Associated Press questionnaire about guns.

Democrat Cheryle Jackson, on leave as president of the Chicago Urban League while running for the Senate, said she wants to revive the federal ban on assault-style weapons, which expired in 2004, a position echoed for the most part by her Democratic rivals.

Most Republicans, on the other hand, oppose an assault-weapons ban. The GOP’s leading candidate, U.S. Rep. Mark Steven Kirk, did not mention assault weapons in his response to the Associated Press questionnaire, but called for “sensible measures to reduce illegal gun violence.” He did not specify what he meant by “sensible.”

Miss Jackson said gun violence is rooted in inequalities in education and a lack of jobs for blacks. Earlier this month, her campaign released an ad calling for an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan so leaders are able to focus on problems at home.

“Gun violence becomes an occupational hazard of working in the only industry hiring in some communities - the illegal gun trade,” said Miss Jackson, the only black candidate running for the seat. “Violence thrives on poverty and despair.”

Alexi Giannoulias, the state treasurer and front-runner in the February Democratic primary, didn’t call outright for reinstating the assault-weapons ban. But, he said, “No one needs a semiautomatic weapon on the streets of Chicago, and no convicted felons or domestic abusers need a weapon anywhere in Illinois.”

A federal appeals court upheld handgun bans in Chicago and suburban Oak Park in June.

Mr. Giannoulias also wants to close a “loophole” that allows gun buyers to avoid a background check on some gun purchases, wants measures to keep guns from children who shouldn’t have them, and opposes allowing concealed guns in national parks, a law that takes effect next year.

Democrats David Hoffman, a former Chicago inspector general, and Jacob Meister, a Chicago lawyer, said they support the Second Amendment right to bear arms, but would back a ban on assault weapons.

“I would support some additional restrictions that focus on the urban gun violence problem without impinging on legitimate Second Amendment rights to own guns and use them for hunting and other traditional purposes,” Mr. Hoffman said.

He also said he supports anti-violence programs like one he helped introduce when he was a federal prosecutor. Called “Project Safe Neighborhoods,” it coordinates enforcement of existing laws, targets gun trafficking and combines efforts by law enforcement agents and local leaders to keep felons in high-crime areas away from guns.

Mr. Meister said “reasonable restrictions on the purchase and use of firearms, including assault weapons” are needed, particularly in urban areas. He did not specify what he meant by “reasonable” rules.

Republican candidates, however, see things differently.

Kathleen Thomas, a historical researcher in Springfield, opposes any restrictions.

“Criminals will always have access to weaponry,” Mrs. Thomas said. “Why would we ever want to limit the law-abiding citizen from having firearms?”

GOP candidates Patrick Hughes, Hinsdale developer, and Andy Martin, a lawyer and talk-show host, also oppose a federal ban on assault weapons and emphasize their support of the right to keep and bear arms.

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