THE Illinois House of Representatives on April 7 takes up what gun-control advocates call the most far-reaching set of laws against the misuse of firearms ever to come before a state legislature.
The sweeping array of bills includes an unprecedented state law subjecting gun dealers to licensing and operating requirements. Sellers of guns are licensed by the federal government.
Illinois would also deny state firearm licenses to people convicted of stalking or engaging in domestic violence. It would attempt to ensure that children don't use or gain access to firearms.
``Illinois has an opportunity here to be a shining example for the rest of the country,'' says Dan Kotowski, project coordinator of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence. The state House Judiciary Committee begins hearings on the 13 bills April 7.
The Illinois legislature is just one of many state assemblies responding to voter discontent over gun-related crime.
Although other states are also considering a broad battery of bills against the misuse of firearms, Illinois appears headed toward extending such curbs deeper and wider than any other state, according to gun-control advocates.
The laws ``are more far-reaching than anything I have heard about,'' says Cheryl Brolin, spokeswoman for Handgun Control Inc. in Washington, D.C. Gun-control supporters hope to push the bills through the legislature using a grass-roots coalition of groups called ONTARGET.
The statewide association, organized by the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, represents more than 10,000 individuals from 230 anticrime, health-care, gun-control, religious, and other groups. It plans to promote the bills with a campaign of letter-writing, phone calls, and rallies, says Mr. Kotowski.
The exercise in ``people power'' is unprecedented in Illinois efforts at gun control. Indeed, the combination of broad-based activism and public intolerance for gun-related crime has pushed aside most obstacles to legislative deliberations over gun control, according to Barbara Shaw, executive director at the Illinois Council for the Prevention of Violence.
Still, passage of the bills in their current form is uncertain because of fierce opposition from lawmakers who support gun owners and manufacturers, say gun-control advocates.
Just last week, state Senate President James (Pate) Philip (R), blunted a bill banning assault weapons proposed by Gov. Jim Edgar, also a Republican.
The amendments attached to the bill by the state senator reduce the number of firearms identified as assault weapons from 92 to 17. The changes would also allow sportsmen and collectors to possess semiautomatic weapons as long as they obtain a special license.
Among the assortment of gun-control bills, the pioneering effort to control peddlers in firearms will probably confront the sharpest opposition, say gun-control advocates. Under the proposed law, Illinois would require dealers to obtain licenses from the state police and submit to fingerprinting.
Moreover, the dealers would be banned from selling guns from their homes or vehicles. They would have to sell their wares from storefronts, report their transactions, and hold a tax identification number with the state.
``That definitely is groundbreaking legislation,'' says Ms. Brolin at Handgun Control Inc. No other state has enacted such a law. But stricter licensing and operating requirements for gun dealers have been proposed at the federal level.