Gun Debate May Dominate GOP Senate Campaign in Illinois

By Gene J. Koprowski | July 7, 2008 | 8:28 PM EDT

(Correction: John Cox is the former owner of the regional company, Jays Potato Chips)

Chicago ( - It's not quite the "Shoot-Out at the O.K. Corral," but a gunfight is underway in Illinois between two contenders for the 2002 Republican U.S. Senate nomination. The eventual winner gets to take on Democratic senator and gun control advocate Richard Durbin next November.

Conservative businessman John Cox is taking aim at the voting record of Republican State Rep. Jim Durkin, who also claims to be a conservative. Moderate James Oberweis, another Republican businessman running in the primary, has thus far been mum about his Second Amendment stance.

Durkin, who represents a blue-collar area west of Chicago, has a voting record on Second Amendment related issues that the National Rifle Association and the Illinois State Rifle Association say deserves a grade of "D."

Durkin's record on firearms is quite clear. According to a news release issued by Gov. George Ryan (R-Ill.), Durkin co-sponsored Senate Bill 177, which became law in 1999.

It requires that firearms stored at home be fitted with a locking system, and that they be placed in a locking container or stored in a secure location. It also gives prosecutors the power to charge gun owners with a crime that carries a fine of $1,000 if they do not adhere to the law.

Cox has never held public office and doesn't have a voting record that could be perceived as negative by conservative voters.

He is the former owner of the regional company, Jays Potato Chips, so he has millions of his own dollars to spend on his political campaign, including television ads, which are stressing conservative themes. A supporter of concealed carry laws and an opponent of mandatory purchase waiting periods, Cox has also been touting himself at local gun shows.

"We believe that Jim Durkin is too liberal for the Republican primary and too liberal to appeal to Republican voters," said Cox. "Jim Durkin has a liberal record. He's voted to raise taxes. He is a direct opponent of individual Second Amendment rights. He is running in the wrong primary. Maybe he should challenge Dick Durbin in the Democrat

Durbin has not yet declared his candidacy for re-election, but nominating papers are expected soon from his campaign to meet the Dec. 17 deadline, a spokeswoman said.

Durkin is trying to ignore Cox's attacks, and is focusing on his experience as an assistant state's attorney in Cook County. He also emphasizes that he is less liberal than Durbin.

"Illinois families deserve better than the priorities set by the current senator," said Durkin, who also supports stronger national defense, President Bush's economic stimulus program, and stricter immigration laws.

Durkin said his votes on gun-related issues were intended as pro-family measures, and were based upon his experiences as a criminal prosecutor in Cook County. He stresses that he holds an Illinois Firearms Owner Identification (FOID) card.

Durkin can also claim support from the right, with the pro-life Family PAC Federal running a direct mail campaign on his behalf.

The third Republican candidate is the more liberal Jim Oberweis, another millionaire, who recently compared pro-lifers to the "Taliban" of Afghanistan, then retreated from his remarks.