CAMPAIGN 06 Gun law heats up race for Congress Roskam challenged on assault weapons By John Biemer and Christi Parsons Tribune staff reporters Published October 11, 2006 After a series of school shootings nationwide, Democratic congressional candidate Tammy Duckworth called Tuesday for "sensible" gun laws while accusing her Republican opponent, state Sen. Peter Roskam, of being a "rubber stamp" for the National Rifle Association. She pointed out that Roskam is "at odds" with Henry Hyde, the man they're trying to replace in the 6th Congressional District, on the federal assault-weapons ban that Republican leaders let expire two years ago. Hyde, who endorsed Roskam as his successor, broke party ranks to support the federal ban on 19 kinds of semiautomatic assault weapons. Roskam voted against a similar measure in the state legislature more than a decade ago and opposes the federal ban, which Duckworth supports. Roskam believes in enforcing laws already on the books to "keep guns out of the hands of criminals who'll abuse them and commit crimes," said his spokesman Ryan McLaughlin. "Every gun can be considered a weapon, and what families in the 6th District want to make sure is those who use guns in violent crimes are penalized," McLaughlin said. "And Peter Roskam's record on that is very strong." Duckworth, surrounded by Illinois Fraternal Order of Police President Ted Street and Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said at a Lombard news conference that Roskam is "not looking out for the best interests of the 6th District." Instead, he is doing the NRA's bidding in return for campaign contributions and foot soldiers in the GOP campaign, she said. "He's voted consistently against sensible gun laws and it's basically whatever the NRA wants, Peter Roskam will vote for," Duckworth said. Since the assault-weapons ban expired, gunfire has again become the leading cause of death for police officers in the line of duty, surpassing motor-vehicle accidents, Street said. "I have seen the effect of those weapons in military combat, and I can tell you there's no place for them in our communities or on our streets," Duckworth said, citing her experience in Iraq as a member of the Illinois Army National Guard. Duckworth also supports the Brady Law, which requires background checks for gun purchases from federally licensed firearm dealers. Roskam has been the point man on several initiatives of importance to gun-rights groups in the Illinois General Assembly. As a compromise last year, he sponsored a plan that included a measure to close the so-called "gun-show loophole," which allowed people to buy guns at shows without an instant background check as long as they had a firearm owner's identification card. But he tied that to a provision requiring the destruction of state records on gun sales, a database the NRA believes authorities use to harass and monitor law-abiding gun owners. After some legislative maneuvering, the records-destruction part was not enacted into law, but gun-rights advocates credit Roskam with sparking an intense debate over gun control--and firing up their members for the current campaign season. He has managed to pass several NRA-backed bills to improve background checks for gun purchases and to reduce access by criminals and other ineligible buyers. "As a lawyer, Peter understands the law and that words mean things," NRA spokesman Todd Vandermyde said. "He has worked to craft and build support for laws that are effective." The school shootings, including the killing of five Amish girls in Pennsylvania, are a reminder of the need for "common sense" gun laws, Helmke said. Although the assault-weapons ban may not have prevented that tragedy, it could have applied to a 13-year-old boy who fired an assault rifle Monday in a Missouri middle school. "You're never going to be able to stop everything but we make it too easy in this country to get the weapons that are going to cause the damages," Helmke said.