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What Illinois House candidates do — and do not — support regarding increased gun control measures

A high school student participates in a gun control rally in front of the U.S. Capitol in March. The U.S. House is taking up gun control measures after recent mass shootings, but it's not clear what the Senate or President Trump will accept.
Alex Wong
Getty Images
A high school student participates in a gun control rally in front of the U.S. Capitol in March. The U.S. House is taking up gun control measures after recent mass shootings, but it's not clear what the Senate or President Trump will accept.

The mass shooting that drove a national news cycle in the past week was the one at a Uvalde, Texas, elementary school where 19 students and two teachers died at the hands of an 18-year-old gunman. But that wasn't the only mass shooting.

According to the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit and "non-advocacy" organization that attempts to track such incidents in near-real time, there were 15 mass shootings over the Memorial Day weekend. The group defines mass shootings as those that leave at least four people, not including the shooter, injured or dead.

In the first half of 2022, the organization tallied 231 mass shootings across the country.

But does it have to be this way?

WGLT posed that question — and others — to candidates running for the state legislature in the 87th, 91st and 105th House Districts. Those districts all include parts of McLean County.

Only two candidates declined to respond: Normal Town Council member Scott Preston, who's running as a Republican for the 91st seat, and Tazewell County Treasurer Mary Burress, a Republican vying for the seat in the 87th district.

Burress initially expressed a willingness to interview, but failed to follow up with WGLT to confirm a date or time that she would be available for questions. Preston, contacted multiple times via phone, his Normal Town Council email and his campaign email, declined to respond in any way to WGLT.

The candidates who did choose to respond were posed the following set of questions, or a version of these questions while interviewing:

  • What new policies should lawmakers consider passing to reduce the likelihood of future mass shootings?
  • Should the state put restrictions on the sale of assault-style rifles, such as AR-15s? If so, what?
  • Most mass shooters are not formally diagnosed with a mental illness when they commit the crimes. Should there be mental health assessments to be allowed to buy a gun?
  • Should there be periodic training requirements to legally own guns?
  • Illinois has very few laws requiring guns to be locked up. Do you support additional legal requirements for gun owners related to safe storage?
  • Illinois has no law restricting large capacity magazines. Should it?

Here's what we learned.

87th House District — includes portions of Tazewell, McLean, Logan, Sangamon, Macon, and DeWitt counties

Mary Burress — Republican
Declined to interview.

Dr. Bill Hauter
Dr. Bill Hauter

Dr. Bill Hauter — Republican

  • Tazewell County Board member, District 2
  • Clinical Assistant Professor Emergency Medicine and Assistant Clinical Professor of Surgery (Anesthesia) at University of Illinois College of Medicine, Peoria
  • Lives in Morton

On Illinois gun laws: "Illinois has obstructionist laws to keep good people from getting guns. Illinois has un-Constitutional laws — you can start with the Firearm Owner Identification Card. It's unnecessary. It's a way that they control us. How do they control us? They use the FOID to control, delay and obstruct law-abiding citizens from owning a gun. There needs to be more guns in the hands of good people."

More background from WGLT: While Illinois has historically had a lengthy waiting time to receive a FOID card due to demand,Illinois State Police director Brendan Kelley recently stated in a news release that the agency is "now able to process all new applications in a state-approved time frame," or about three weeks.

The FOID card is a byproduct of a 1968 public safety act and was created as a means of assessing who can legally own a firearm and/or ammunition. Fees collected in the FOID application process include $10 at the beginning and a $10 renewal fee that funds the State Police Firearm Services Fund and the State Police Revocation Enforcement Fund.

On whether there should be a mental health assessment before someone can own or purchase a firearm: "I would not be for a mental health assessment before someone buys a gun. I don't agree with that. I do agree with identifying those younger kids, usually it's a younger male, who has red flags all over.

I just think it's a misdirection to look at the actual tool that he uses to do this terrible, terrible crime. Everybody wants to focus on the tool and not the psychosis or the mental instability ... It's just a misdirection, in my mind. It's so superficial to me to just go to the gun, or go to the knife, or go to the car, or whatever they may use to do it. It's always so political. To me, it's more of an issue with a deep spiritual darkness in our country than it is about whatever tool they use to commit to their heinous crimes."

On potential restrictions related to assault-style weapons and large-capacity magazines: "My sons and I like to go to Kam (Shooting Sports) in Morton and shoot our guns. We rent a couple and try them out. That's something we enjoy together as a hobby. People discount that, like 'Oh, you don't need an AR' or something like that. There is no provision that should hamper your ability to do that."

91st House District - includes part of Bloomington-Normal along with areas north of Interstate 74 to the west, including Carlock, Goodfield, Washington and East Peoria

Scott Preston — Republican
No response.

Sharon Chung

Sharon Chung — Democrat

  • McLean County Board member, District 7
  • Mother of two children, musician and educator
  • Lives in Bloomington

On Illinois gun laws: "I do feel like we have laws here in Illinois, but the majority of guns are coming here from other states. It's kind of just about figuring out what we can do about that part. I think what is very clear is that this is a federal issue: In terms of the national level, gun laws are sort of done on a state-by-state basis. Because a lot of these guns are coming into Illinois from other states where they're not as regulated, I'm wondering if something can be done more at a federal level."

On potential restrictions related to assault-style weapons and large-capacity magazines: "That's something that definitely needs to be discussed and looked at. If I was elected to the statehouse, I would take a look at language and legislation about that."

On whether there should be a mental health assessment before someone can own or purchase a firearm: "I definitely think it's something that can be considered. Mental health is one of those things that people like to use to say, 'It's not guns, it's mental health,' and then a lot of the time, the people who say that are not actually interested in funding mental health. When things have been funded... not quite [adequately] in terms of mental health, maybe things like this do happen."

Karla Bailey-Smith
Karla Bailey-Smith

Karla Bailey-Smith — Democrat

  • Painter, small business owner at Artistic Answers
  • Mother of one, involved Unitarian Universalist church member
  • Lives in Bloomington

On Illinois gun laws: "Illinois does not require registration for firearms — that would be helpful because then we could track them and allow responsible gun owners to authentically claim that responsibility."

On potential restrictions related to assault-style weapons and large-capacity magazines: "Illinois currently does not have any laws restricting magazine capacity. I've actually talked to people who say that shooting an AR-15 is really fun. Well, I've never shot one, so wouldn't know personally, but if you are shooting one in a safe location, maybe what we do is that we only allow those guns to be at a safe shooting location — and they stay at that location. Maybe for people who enjoy shooting a military style weapon for fun, then that stays at that location — it doesn't go home. You can't have one. You can't have one at your home. I would support a ban on individual, home-ownership of a high-powered, repeating weapon."

On requiring periodic training for gun owners: "For any individual, gun ownership (involves) a serious weapon that can be used to kill somebody. Therefore, you should have to undergo a certain amount of training, to be able to handle that weapon safely, to understand how to load and unload it, to understand how to clean it. We still, unfortunately, have unintentional shootings because people have guns in their homes and they're just cleaning them or they're kind of messing around with them and they accidentally shoot somebody, usually a family member. That's completely preventable — if people have appropriate training."

Retired farmer and insurance claims representative Jim Fisher is running for State Representative in the new 91st district.
Charlie Schlenker
Jim Fisher

Jim Fisher — Republican

  • Retired farmer, veteran
  • Former Unit 5 school board member
  • Lives in Hudson

On Illinois gun laws: "I believe the FOID is an infringement of the Second Amendment. If the government charges me something in order to exercise my rights, that is an infringement. Why do I have to have an ID in order to possess or be in possession of a firearm? I don't know of any (laws) they need to add — there's a lot of things that they should remove.

There's a recent one, for example, on ghost guns. If I have a weapon that I've been able to build myself and I have the skills to do that, why do I have to tell the government? It's really none of their business. There again, I have a Constitutional right to keep and bear arms. That's my right — I don't need the government. I shouldn't have the government telling me I have to have a serial number. What what are you going to do now all now the government knows that I have this and this is its serial number?"

More background from WGLT: The law referred to here is House Bill 4383, which Gov. JB Pritzker signed on May 18. It bans ownership and creation of guns assembled at home from kits that are available online. The kits and parts needed to assemble such a weapon do not require a background check. According to a news release, Illinois State Police have had 28 cases involving the hard-to-trace guns in the first half of 2022. Illinois is the first state in the Midwest to ban ghost guns and one of 12 in the U.S. The ATF, under President Joe Biden, recently changed its definition of what a "firearm" is earlier this year, meaning it now requires people who have a DIY-weapon to have passed a background check to legally own it and must have it serialized.

On potential restrictions related to assault-style weapons and large-capacity magazines: "My understanding is according to the (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives), which is a federal organization, you're not allowed to have a machine gun. I understand that, because when shooting a machine gun you go through a lot of ammunition really fast. But is that infringement? I suppose it can be. I've heard people talk about the Second Amendment doesn't say you can't own a cannon, so why should the government say you can't own a cannon? If I want to own a cannon, I should be able to own a cannon. I shouldn't have to have permission from the government for me to exercise my Constitutional rights — whether it's a simple, small caliber rifle, whether it's a pistol or revolver, whether it's what they call automatic. In order for me to have possession of any one of those, I have to have permission from the state — now that's wrong, that's in violation of the Constitution and that should be removed."

On whether there should be safe storage laws: "That is the responsibility of a person who owns a gun — to be able to keep it safe. I believe that the parents do have a responsibility to teach your children not only think about that, but about anything about safety, whether it's from how to use your sharp knife and cutting the pancakes to driving a car."

On background checks and mental health assessments to own a firearm: "Background checks, to my understanding, are ... you're looking for a criminal. And if you're a felon, you've given up your Constitutional rights. If a dealer wants to check and see... I don't have a problem with that. If somebody has a restraining order against them, and they're out to buy a gun, then that probably should be a red flag.

When it comes to mental health, we're not talking about criminal activity. If someone has a particular mental condition, should they be allowed to own a gun? My answer that would be if the person is capable of safely operating one, I don't have a problem with that."

105th House District — includes all or portions of nine counties, including Livingston, Peoria, Woodford Tazewell and McLean

Kyle Ham

Kyle Ham — Republican

  • Former CEO of the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council
  • Former chief of staff for former State Treasurer Dan Rutherford
  • Lives in Bloomington

On Illinois gun laws: "We need to figure out a way to protect children and our schools. We protect banks. We protect all kinds of institutions — airports. We have to do more to 'securitize' schools. I've been in schools where there is no form of protection at the entry, but I've also been to schools like Normal West where you have to go through a first set of doors and speak to someone through a glass window before they automatically unlock the door to get through into the school."

On whether there should be a mental health assessment before someone can own or purchase a firearm: "I don't know whether mental health assessment is the answer and I don't know how you even derive what that looks like. I think we as a society need to be more attuned to the people around us. And, at the end of the day, it's the parents' responsibility to know what their kids are doing, how they are acting, and what they are thinking. A lot of these young shooters, where are the parents?"

On whether there should be safe storage laws: "The idea of having to go through the lock-up system to protect yourself — we're down to personal responsibility to have gun owners keep them out of harms way and children's way."

On potential restrictions related to assault-style weapons and large-capacity magazines: "Overwhelmingly, the vast majority of the people that own these type of weapons are responsible and the data shows that. I don't think that's going to be first and foremost."

On requiring periodic training for gun owners: "I don't see a need to have recurring training, but I'd be willing to have that discussion. But that is just one more thing that only affects responsible gun owners."

Mike Kirkton
Charlie Schlenker
Mike Kirkton

Mike Kirkton — Republican

  • Livingston County Board member
  • Veteran, owner/trainer at Top View Farms
  • Lives in Gridley

On whether there should be a mental health assessment before someone can own or purchase a firearm: "I wouldn't say as a blanket, yeah, you have to have a mental health assessment prior to buying a gun, but there should be some sort of checks and balances there so we don't let this happen again. I don't think it's black and white — I think it's gray. I mean, it's terrible. I support the Second Amendment, but yet I don't support people with mental disabilities or some kind of trouble in their past taking a weapon and going into a school and shooting children, for God's sakes."

On potential restrictions related to assault-style weapons and large-capacity magazines: "I'm willing to look at large mag limits, but (ultimately) it's not the weapons system that is killing people — it is the person using it that is killing people."

On requiring periodic training for gun owners: "I think there ought to be some kind of training requirement and I think it will take more analysis and study of the issue to determine what that kind of training would look like."

Don Rients
Charlie Schlenker
Don Rients

Don Rients — Republican

  • Former correctional officer
  • Technical worker at State Farm
  • Lives in Benson

On expanding state or federal gun laws to prevent mass shootings: "There may be different things to do but controlling guns is not one of them. You have to catch evil people before they act without violating the rights of individuals. Maybe it's the price for being free. I hate to say it that way, but we can always do better to limit the mass shootings in this country. We can always do better.

Self defense is always a consideration, maybe not due to a dangerous neighborhood but maybe to a dangerous government. Do you want to become a Nazi Germany where they take away all the guns and then they tell you what to do? Do you want to be a China? You don't want to turn into these countries where you are a slave of the nation. We are a country that is running a trial run on personal freedom. And that personal freedom includes defending oneself against a suppressive government."

On whether there should be a mental health assessment before someone can own or purchase a firearm: "That would violate the Second Amendment, I believe, because you shouldn't hinder anybody from being able to have a gun by the Constitution, proactively. That requirement is a slippery slope because the definition could change depending on whether the left is in power. Who determines who is mentally ill?"

On potential restrictions related to assault-style weapons and large-capacity magazines: No. They would be ineffective — you can switch out magazines very quickly. That's nitpicking around the edges.' The issue isn't the gun, it's the person. You need to figure out how to change people's hearts. My answer, being a Gideon, is to come back to Christ. Just get people to come back to Christ."

On requiring periodic training for gun owners: "Periodic training requirements to own a gun would violate the Second Amendment by tying ownership to approval by a government official."

Dennis Tipsword

Dennis Tipsword — Republican

  • Chief Deputy Sheriff of the Woodford County Sheriff’s Office
  • Small business owner
  • Lives in Metamora

On expanding Illinois gun laws to prevent mass shootings: "I think the first thing that we can do, and we should do is, make our schools more safe. We have to make schools single-point entry. We have to make them locked — we have to abide by that. It has to be a zero-tolerance thing — the doors are locked. We've got to come up with a zero tolerance policy for having any of those doors open for any reason, we've got to make those schools more secure. And it's not just schools — we've got to talk with our grocery stores, and our shopping malls, and, you know, movie theaters. It's my opinion that when we came up with gun-free zones, and putting stickers on buildings, saying that they are gun free zones — I think I think that backfired on us, I think it felt good, that someone could put stickers on a school and say, ' This is a gun free zone.'

I'll put it out there first, I don't think banning firearms in general is going to do a thing."

On whether there should be a mental health assessment before someone can own or purchase a firearm: "I think we have to somehow come up with a better safety net to catch those people who are exhibiting those behaviors that may lead us or lead them to doing something like this. I don't think that there's an easy answer — there's not an easy answer for this at all, or it would already be done."

On expanding red flag laws: "Red flag laws are, maybe, well-intentioned. But I've seen so many cases if a breakup or a marriage gone bad, to the point where one of the one of the parties comes and gets an order of protection against the other. The judge only has what is presented in his his or her courtroom to rule on an order of protection — and a lot of times, that information may not have been as accurate, as the judge would have liked to have heard. That's that's the worry I have, because all it takes is a disgruntled ex-spouse to come in and make allegations. I think the red flag laws are inherently dangerous, just because of incorrect information that can be involved in them. So I suppose I would be leaning toward, probably, abolishing them."

On requiring periodic training for gun owners: "Again, it goes back to, who's training? What are the requirements? And no. No. The answer is no. There are there are over 100 million guns in the United States. The vast majority of those guns are owned by safe, law-abiding citizens who maybe learned gun-handling skills when they were kids, just like my kids all did from their father or their grandfather, or things like that. So no, I don't think that there should be mandatory training to own a gun."

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Lyndsay Jones is a reporter at WGLT. She joined the station in 2021. You can reach her at lljone3@ilstu.edu.
WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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