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Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker defends state's new sweeping gun ban

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker on new gun law
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker defends state’s new gun restrictions 17:41

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker believes a sweeping ban on certain high-powered firearms and high-capacity ammunition magazines he recently signed into law will withstand legal challenges and "venue shopping" by gun rights advocates trying to roll back some of the most aggressive firearm laws in the country.  

The law curbs the sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines, bans so-called "switches" that allow semi-automatic firearms to fire rounds automatically and expands "red flag" laws allowing judges to keep people who are deemed dangerous away from firearms. Pritzker signed the legislation earlier this month as he began his second term. Democrats introduced the changes partly in response to a deadly shooting last year where a gunman used a high-powered rifle to kill seven and wound dozens more at a July Fourth parade in a Chicago suburb. 

But new sweeping gun control legislation has been knocked down by the U.S. Supreme Court in recent years, most notably in New York. And on Friday, a judge in Effingham County, a conservative part of Illinois, temporarily blocked the law amid claims the new law violates the state constitution. There are at least two other legal challenges to the law, another at the state level and another in federal court.  

In an interview with CBS News Monday, Pritzker called the Effingham County case an example of gun rights advocates "venue shopping" for a favorable ruling.  

"There's always some place to go among 102 counties in Illinois to — to bring a case with a judge who whose political future might rest on the decision that he or she makes. So, look, it was poorly decided, and it will be overturned. I'm very confident of that," he said. 

The governor also dismissed recent statements by county sheriffs in the state who say they won't enforce the new gun law, noting that sheriffs account for a small number of the state's total law enforcement. "But let's be clear. You don't get to choose what laws you enforce when you are in law enforcement. You have to, you know, enforce the laws whether you like them or not. You take an oath to do that. And these sheriffs have taken that oath." 

While Illinois has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, Chicago remains a center of gun-related crime. Pritzker said he believes the new legislation will help address gun violence in the city in part because it's being coupled with steps taken in recent years to boost mental health treatment options across the state. 

"There is a great deal of investment that we've over the last two years made in crime prevention that is in in violence prevention on the streets, lots of programs to put kids to, to work during the summers and so on. So, we're doing quite a lot. What makes me think that we're going to have a diminution of crime in our state is we're doing all of those things. You can't just do one." 

But Pritzker criticized Republicans who "talk an awful lot about mental health and say what we really need to do is not pass the assault weapons bans, but really, we need mental health treatment. But they voted against it every time in our state. And we've made significant strides in mental health treatment. So, you know, they're hypocrites. They talk a lot about that, mainly because they don't want to talk about the fact that if you had an assault weapons ban in place, it really does reduce the number of shootings. We saw that nationally. And, you know, for 10years we had an assault weapons ban in the United States and you saw the number of shootings go way down. So, we anticipate that that will happen here." 

Pritzker, 58, won reelection in November by defeating Republican Darren Bailey, an election-denying candidate backed by former President Donald Trump. A member of the wealthy Pritzker family, which owns the Hyatt hotel chain, he's worth an estimated $3.5 billion and has bankrolled his statewide campaigns, fueling speculation that he could leverage his governorship and launch a future presidential campaign. 

"Democratic governors are getting it done across the nation, and I'm very proud of what we're doing here in the Midwest, he said, ticking off a series of accomplishments: An increased minimum wage, legalization of cannabis, expunging the records of people with low-level drug convictions, boosting college scholarships and expanding childcare access and preschool.  

"We're a beacon for the country, in the center of the country, and certainly a beacon for, you know, between the coasts. Illinois has really been at the forefront of these issues," he said. 

But Pritzker said he has no plans to run for president anytime soon. 

"I just got reelected as governor of Illinois. I intend to serve out four years. And frankly, I intend to help renominate Joe Biden in a convention in Chicago in 2024," he said. 

The Windy City is bidding to host the 2024 Democratic National Convention, and Pritzker, a longtime generous party donor, is aggressively pushing President Biden and party leaders to choose his state to host the quadrennial gathering for the first time since 1996. 

As Mr. Biden prepares to run for reelection, "He needs to make sure that people remember who he is," Pritzker said. "You know, this is a person with great empathy. And I think he demonstrated not only that empathy, but the ability to get things done in the worst crisis perhaps in all of our lifetimes." 

"Think about the challenge of the Congress that he got -- where, you know, [a] 50-50 Senate, a very close House and managed to get massive pieces of legislation that really lifted the economy out of recession in a very short period of time," the governor added. "So, you know, that's not a small thing to brag about when you're running for reelection," noting that three to five major pieces of legislation have passed despite "very slim majorities" in the last Congress.

"This is a guy who served in the United States Senate, worked across the aisle when he was in the Senate, and now he's doing it as president," Pritzker said of Mr. Biden. "He proves that having experience doing that and having the respect of people on the other side of the aisle, you know, being able to sit down in a room and really hammer out a deal, that's something that you need in these very turbulent, difficult times where the nation seems divided. This is a guy who brings people together." 

Grace Kazarian contributed to this report. 

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