Thursday, June 16, 2005

Chicago Tribune: Henry Hyde's shadow

Henry Hyde's shadow,1,6294725.story

Henry Hyde is a larger than life figure in DuPage County politics, and Peter Roskam gave a clear nod to that the other day as he entered the Republican race to succeed the veteran 6th District congressman."There is no one who will fill [Hyde's] shoes," declared Roskam, now a state senator from Wheaton. "My goal is to walk in his shadow."Shadows, however, can quickly vanish when something moves just a little one way or the other. That's why wandering off to the right on an issue important to many of Hyde's constituents has left Roskam exposed to the light. There he stands, a key player in a push by the National Rifle Association to strip away public safety protections in current gun laws.In his more than 30 years in Congress, Hyde became an icon of many conservative causes. But in 1994, he also diverted from type to play a crucial and eloquent role in helping to propel passage of a federal ban on the sale of semiautomatic assault weapons--a ban that, unfortunately, a more narrow-minded Congress has since allowed to lapse."People have a right to own weapons, but not weapons of mass destruction and mayhem whose only purpose is to kill a lot of people in a hurry," Hyde said at the time.Contrast that with a bill Roskam pushed through the Illinois Senate earlier this spring. As originally passed, it would have voided all suburban handgun bans while also requiring the destruction of state records on gun purchases within 90 days. That provision has federal, state and many local law enforcement officers apoplectic. They say the state database is a powerful tool they use to link weapons purchases to homicidal drug gangs.As Roskam explains it, the measure was part conviction and part practicality. It was grafted to something Mayor Richard Daley has long wanted and Roskam says he does as well: the closure of a glaring loophole that lets people buy weapons at gun shows without being subjected to background checks. In true Springfield fashion, Roskam reasons, the best way to get is to give.Perhaps luckily for Roskam, the Illinois House watered down his bill before sending it back to the Senate the other day for fine-tuning. Stripped away was the part about pre-empting suburbs, like the ones Roskam wants to represent in Congress, from deciding for themselves what kind of restrictions to put on guns.Even so, the measure--which could come to a vote in the Senate Wednesday--still contains plenty that suburban police chiefs and soccer moms alike fret about. So Roskam's name is now indelibly tattooed on a hybrid bill that gun control advocates consider a dangerous step backward despite the gun show provision.The DuPage County that sent Henry Hyde to Congress in 1974 might not have tolerated the kind of moderation he came to embrace on gun control years later. But the county, like Hyde, has evolved over the years on many fronts. Just two years ago, a Tribune/WGN-TV poll found that two of every three voters in the collar counties said they favored more restrictions on gun sales.Roskam is the early favorite to get his party's nomination for the Hyde seat. Should he get it, the gun bill will surely provide a rich mine of material for Democrats to paint Roskam as a tool of the NRA in its fight to weaken gun laws.Democrats have been gaining strength in Hyde's district in recent years. Whether the gun issue would be enough to tilt the balance in their favor is anyone's guess at this point. Perhaps only the shadow knows.
Copyright © 2005, Chicago Tribune

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