CHICAGO – In a major victory for gun rights advocates, a federal appeals court on Tuesday struck down a ban on carrying concealed weapons in Illinois – the only remaining state where carrying concealed weapons is entirely illegal – and gave lawmakers 180 days to write a law that legalizes it.
In overturning a lower court decision, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the ban was unconstitutional and suggested a law legalizing concealed carry is long overdue in a state where gun advocates had vowed to challenge the ban on every front.
Lame-duck Congressman Joe Walsh, R-McHenry, who has been a staunch gun rights supporter, praised the court’s decision. Despite Illinois’ restrictive gun laws, crime rates have soared, especially in Chicago, he said.
“The right to possess and carry weapons is enshrined in our Constitution, and I am glad that this has been recognized by the Federal Courts,” Walsh said in a news release.
The McHenry County Right to Carry Association’s 300 members have been pressuring statehouse politicians to end Illinois’ conceal and carry ban for the past three years.
Louis Rofrano, a member on the group’s Board of Directors, said the federal appellate decision represents a “win” for any Illinois citizen who wants to exercise his Second Amendment right.
He rejected the notion that a concealed carry law would lead to a wave of shooting-related deaths – a common criticism among Chicago lawmakers and other gun control advocates.
“The problems that Illinois has in terms of crime and violence exist in other metropolitan areas,” Rofrano said. “Why do we think citizens of Illinois are somehow less responsible than citizens in other states? The reality is the citizens applying for concealed carry permits are not criminals.”
Gov. Pat Quinn, who favors strict gun control laws, was reviewing the opinion and did not have immediate comment, according to a spokeswoman. Attorney General Lisa Madigan, whose office is responsible for defending the state’s laws in court, will review the ruling before deciding whether to appeal or take other action, said spokeswoman Maura Possley.
“The court gave 180 days before its decision will be returned to the lower court to be implemented,” Possley said in a statement. “That time period allows our office to review what legal steps can be taken and enables the legislature to consider whether it wants to take action.”
Richard Pearson, the executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, said there is no reason why lawmakers cannot pass state Rep. Brandon Phelps’ bill during a weeklong legislative session in January.
“Now that the court has ruled ... we will work as soon as possible with legislators to craft a concealed carry bill for the state of Illinois,” he said.
“Christmas came early for law-abiding gun owners,” said Phelps, a Democratic lawmaker from southern Illinois whose proposed legislation narrowly lost in the Legislature last year.
The court did order its ruling stayed to “allow the Illinois legislature to craft a new gun law that will impose reasonable limitations, consistent with the public safety and the Second Amendment as interpreted in this opinion, on the carrying of guns in public,” Judge Richard Posner, who wrote the court’s majority opinion.
Phelps suggested that the court, in its 2-1 ruling, may have encouraged lawmakers to pass a far less restrictive concealed carry law than the one he proposed last year that was rejected.
“I said on the floor, ‘A lot of people who voted against this, one of these days you’re going to wish you did, because of all the limitations and the safety precautions we put in this bill, because one of these days the court’s going to rule and you’re not going to like the ruling,” he said. “Today’s the day.”
The appellate panel’s majority ruling, which was replete with historical references, argued that Illinois had not made a strong case that a gun ban was vital to public safety. It also was a signal to state lawmakers and gun-ban activists that the time to argue about the Second Amendment has passed.
“We are disinclined to engage in another round of historical analysis to determine whether eighteenth-century America understood the Second Amendment to include a right to bear guns outside the home,” Posner wrote. “The Supreme Court has decided that the amendment confers a right to bear arms for self-defense, which is as important outside the home as inside.”
But the dissenting judge, Ann Claire Williams, raised questions that could come up in a possible appeal or when lawmakers begin to debate and craft a new law addressing the issue.
After saying that “protecting the safety of its citizens is unquestionably a significant state interest,” Williams wrote, “when firearms are carried outside the home, the safety of a broader range of citizens is at issue. The risk of being injured or killed now extends to strangers, law enforcement personnel, and other private citizens who happen to be in the area.”
• Stephen Di Benedetto may be reached at email@example.com