Would the National Rifle Association rethink its policy positions if, the next time some maniac with an assault weapon goes nuts and shoots up a bunch of innocent people, it’s at NRA headquarters? Surely the NRA has some disgruntled former employees.

That’s something I’ve often wondered. I’m not what you’d call a gun person. So I find it disturbing that I’m not entirely sure how I’d vote on two of the three bills the NRA is currently pushing through the Illinois legislature.

One bill was inspired by the case of Wilmette resident Hale DeMar. You’ll recall that DeMar shot a goofball who broke into his house two nights in a row last December, successfully defending his home but demonstrably violating Wilmette’s gun ban. This bill would let a judge find someone like DeMar innocent if the weapon were used in self-defense. Maybe state representative Julie Hamos of Evanston was right when she called the bill a “backdoor attempt by the NRA” to make concealed handguns legal in Illinois. Still, a gun ban in Wilmette–or even Chicago–is merely a symbolic gesture when guns are legal everywhere else in Illinois. And I admit I enjoyed picturing the goofball burglar fleeing DeMar’s house by smashing through a closed window.

Then there’s a conceal-and-carry bill for retired police officers and former military police. The NRA remained technically neutral on this bill because–maybe you saw this coming–they think everyone eligible for a firearm permit should be able to carry a concealed weapon. I heartily dislike the idea of increasing the number of hidden guns. But state senator Ed Petka of Plainfield, who sponsored the bill, has a point when he argues that retired cops might need to defend themselves against criminals holding a grudge.

Both of those bills leave me a bit stymied, but the third is a no-brainer: a proposal to lower the age for getting a firearm owner’s identification (FOID) card without parental consent from 21 to 18. Great idea–if some teenager’s parents don’t think the kid should be trusted with a deadly weapon, let’s give it to him anyway! The argument in favor is that some poor kid who’s old enough to be drafted might not get to go hunting because mom and dad won’t give their permission. Boo-hoo.

Let’s face it, anyone who’s been 18 and lived to tell about it knows the military doesn’t take 18-year-olds because they are, as a group, especially responsible and mature. And once enlisted they don’t suddenly become old enough to buy liquor either.

Interestingly, Governor Rod Blagojevich has tilted in the opposite direction on the three bills, all of which seem likely to make it to his desk. A spokes-person announced on Saturday that Blagojevich would sign the one lowering the FOID age to 18 but veto the other two. Then, after a couple days of criticism from Chicago Democrats, Blagojevich announced he’d sign the FOID bill–but only combined with a state ban on assault weapons.

Well, the vetoes I can understand, but lowering the FOID age, with or without an assault-weapons ban? Apparently Blagojevich wants to cater to downstaters who’d put guns on their key chains if we let them, without losing too many votes in Chicago. Now there’s a political balancing act I wouldn’t try if you put a gun to my head.

So after all that, the Illinois Gaming Board chose Rosemont to receive the state’s tenth casino license. What’s all the fuss about? I’m only surprised when something sleazy fails to happen in the gambling industry–oh, sorry! That’s “gaming.” I forgot–even gamblers don’t want to be called gamblers anymore. They’re gamers. And, I suppose, gaming addicts–as if people get addicted to Sorry or Clue.

There’s just one thing I don’t get about the whole tenth-license thing. Whatever happened to the idea that casinos are supposed to go to economically depressed areas? State senate president Emil Jones keeps pointing out that the Illinois Riverboat Gaming Act says an area’s economic need is supposed to count for something, but no one seems to hear him.

Rosemont is not economically depressed. But let’s give the Illinois Gaming Board the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they were confused because Rosemont is depressing in every other way, no matter how many flowers they paint on their water towers. I wouldn’t move there if someone allegedly associated with Rosemont mayor Donald Stephens put a gun to my head.

T he Wal-Mart logo is the mark of the beast, as far as I’m concerned. Wal-Mart began the odious modern trend of giant stores driving entire small-town business districts out of existence, turning vibrant main streets into pedestrian deserts. On top of that, Wal-Mart is as depressing as Rosemont. I walk into Wal-Mart and the only thing I want is a Prozac prescription to take to the Wal-Mart pharmacy counter.

Last week the City Council zoning committee temporarily halted construction of a new Wal-Mart in the impoverished Austin neighborhood, represented by Alderman Emma Mitts, by delaying a necessary zoning change. The aldermen were swayed by union leaders, who hate Wal-Mart because the company won’t let its employees organize. At the same committee meeting the aldermen passed zoning changes for a shopping center in the 21st Ward, not realizing the project includes a Wal-Mart. Labor leaders hoped to persuade the aldermen to derail that development at the March 31 City Council meeting.

It seems rather pointless. There are other stores welcomed in Chicago that don’t have unionized employees–Borders, for instance. And the aldermen are unlikely to bend Wal-Mart to their will. The mighty chain could easily lay siege to the city by surrounding us with a store in every single neighboring suburb. Alderman Mitts isn’t even worried about Wal-Mart destroying local businesses in Austin. She says there aren’t really any local businesses to begin with.

Much as I despise Wal-Mart, I’ll say this for it: the company’s willing to open its doors in some truly economically depressed parts of the city. Good thing the Illinois Gaming Board doesn’t direct retail development too.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Mike Werner.