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County Board sends assault weapons referendum to the ballot

Cook County voters will get to say in November whether they believe the state should enact tougher gun laws, including an outright ban on the sale and transfer of assault weapons. 

The non-binding referendum is one of two measures the Cook County Board voted Wednesday to place on the upcoming ballot. 

Democratic board members unanimously supported the gun control measure, which asks if the state should “require universal background checks for firearm transfers and prohibit the sale and transfer of assault weapons, assault weapon attachments and high capacity ammunition magazines?”



Gov. Pat Quinn also has called for a similar law, though legislation has failed to move forward in Springfield. The board’s approval of the ballot question comes as Quinn’s campaign has tried to hit Republican rival Bruce Rauner on the issue. Recently, Quinn's campaign released a new online video juxtaposing TV news reports on Chicago gun violence with footage of Rauner stating he believes gun owners should be free to use assault weapons for “target practice … on their property as they choose fit.”

Board President Toni Preckwinkle said the ballot measure was a continuation of the board's attempt to reduce gun violence  not part of a coordinated effort.

But just hours after the measure was approved, Quinn's office sent out a glowing release praising the board. 

“I applaud the Cook County Board for adding these important referendums. With proper gun control regulations and investment in mental health care we can help save lives and improve safety within our communities.”

Republicans on the board, including state GOP chairman Com. Tim Schneider, did not oppose the gun control measure. Instead, they requested to be marked as “present” during the vote.

The other advisory referendum, sent to the ballot on a unanimous vote, was a measure calling for increased state mental health funding. The state has cut $187 million in funding – a move that has disproportionately affected the poor, commissioners said.

In Chicago alone, six state-run mental health centers have been shuttered, a county memo states. 

For months, Sheriff Tom Dart has publicized the number of mentally ill inmates, who he says wind up in Cook County jail instead of mental health facilities.  

Voters in November will be asked: “Shall the General Assembly of the State of Illinois appropriate additional funds to provide necessary mental health services for the people of the State of Illinois?

Commissioner Larry Suffredin said approval of the measure could “give backbone to the members of the General Assembly” next time matters of mental health funding come up.