SPRINGFIELD – Across Illinois, tens of thousands of people found to be in possession of a weapon unlawfully are charged with crimes like unlawful use of a weapon or labeled armed habitual criminals – despite the fact that more than half of these individuals have never been convicted of a crime of violence. That’s why State Senator Javier Cervantes is moving legislation to retitle these charges to more accurately reflect the nature of the crimes.  

“This directly affects minority communities around the state, and by changing the name of these offenses, we can more accurately assess the crimes committed,” said Cervantes (D-Chicago). “Most people reading a criminal history would assume that unlawful use of a weapon indicates far more dangerous activity than in reality, but making this change can provide clarity and ensure those assumptions don’t prevent people from accessing services later in life.”

According to Cabrini Green Legal Aid, more than 86,500 people were arrested and more than 33,000 were convicted of unlawful use of a weapon in Illinois since 2009. This disproportionately impacts people and communities of color, with Black individuals comprising 69% of all people arrested for UUW, and negatively affects people’s ability to secure housing and employment.

House Bill 4500 would change the title of the “unlawful use of a weapon” offense to “unlawful possession of a weapon” in the Criminal Code, along with several similarly named criminal offenses. The legislation would also change the title of the “armed habitual criminal” offense to “unlawful possession of a firearm by a repeat felony offender.” The bill does not change the definitions, penalties or any other elements of the offenses.

“Changing the language around these criminal offenses can help convicted individuals access more support through housing and employment opportunities,” said Cervantes. “For individuals who have been convicted, one of the best ways to move forward is to find employment and housing, and with this legislation, our goal is to reduce the stigma preventing people from accessing those opportunities.”

House Bill 4500 passed the Senate Executive Committee on Wednesday and heads to the full Senate for further deliberation.