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State Senate OKs bill to change names of weapons charges

On Behalf of | May 30, 2024 | Weapons Offenses |

Over the past five years, well over 30,000 Illinois residents have been convicted of a charge known as “unlawful use of a weapon.” Critics say this charge is unnecessarily broad, and a new bill working its way through the state legislature could help narrow it down by simply changing its name.

House Bill 4500 would rename the charge, calling it “unlawful possession of a weapon,” and making similar changes to certain related criminal charges. In May, the Illinois Senate unanimously passed the bill.

What’s in a name?

If it becomes law, House Bill 4500 would change the names of certain weapons charges, but it wouldn’t change anything else about them. The penalties that go with a conviction would remain the same. So, why bother?

Proponents of the bill say the changes are necessary to help people accused of weapons to repair their lives after being charged with a scary-sounding crime. These charges disproportionately affect people of color, and nearly 70% of people arrested for unlawful use of a weapon are Black.

Furthermore, proponents of the bill point out that, even though the name of the charge hinges on “unlawful use,” prosecutors do not actually need to prove that a defendant used a weapon, only that they possessed one. By changing the wording to use the word “possession,” proponents say, they will make the name of the charge more adequately represent the charges themselves. In so doing, they hope to take some of the stigma off the people accused of the crime. Without that stigma, they say, defendants will have an easier time securing housing and employment.

House Bill 4500 would make similar changes to a charge known as “unlawful use of a weapon by an armed habitual criminal.” If the bill becomes law, the name of that charge would refer to possession of a weapon by a “repeat felony offender.”