Illinois House Democrats were told during a private caucus meeting in Springfield last week that, despite what Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez says, inaction on concealed carry would have very serious consequences.
As you most assuredly already know, a federal appellate court has given the General Assembly until June 8 to pass a new law allowing some form of public carrying of loaded weapons. After that deadline, Illinois’ laws against public carrying would be struck down. Illinois is the only state in the nation that totally bars concealed or open carry by citizens.
However, an aide to Alvarez told the House Judiciary Committee last week that the federal appellate ruling means nothing to the state.
Paul Castiglione, a representative of Alvarez, dropped a bomb during a House Judiciary Committee hearing called to discuss concealed carry when he declared that until the U.S. or Illinois Supreme courts rule, the appellate decision is “not binding” on the state.
“Only the Illinois Supreme Court can declare a statute from this body to be unconstitutional,” Castiglione told the committee’s members. He also took aim at warnings by the National Rifle Association that if no new concealed carry law is put into place before the deadline, then gun owners would be free to carry assault rifles down Michigan Avenue.
Castiglione insisted that his office would continue to enforce the current law. “Anyone who decides, for example, to walk down Michigan Avenue in Chicago carrying an AK-15 [sic] would be subject to arrest and prosecution,” he said.
But that’s not how the House Democratic legal staff sees the world.
At one point during that closed-door Democratic caucus meeting, Rep. Ken Dunkin, D-Chicago, rose to ask whether staff was claiming that if nothing passes the General Assembly, then after June 8 he could legally carry a loaded semi-automatic rifle into the Statehouse.
“Yes,” he was told.
A stunned silence fell over the caucus meeting, said several House Democrats who attended. “I think they finally get it now,” one pro-gun House Democrat said.
Some historically anti-gun members talked after the committee about how they now need to vote for a concealed carry bill. So, Dunkin’s question and the answer given appear to have worked. At least for now, quite a lot of members are not willing to kick this particular can down the road.
Trouble is, Secretary of State Jesse White’s office says no way will they allow people to walk into the Statehouse with a gun, regardless of what happens this spring. They believe they have statutory authority to back them up, and White controls access to the Capitol Building, so he should know.
White has long been a gun-control proponent. In fact, according to a recent poll by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, he’s in the mainstream of Illinois thought on this topic.
The survey found that 72 percent of Illinoisans believe that “laws covering the sale of firearms should be made more strict,” while just 2.2 percent said they should be less strict. An additional 21 percent said they should remain the same and 4 percent didn’t know.
According to the Institute, even 66 percent of downstate voters, 55 percent of conservatives, and 55 percent of Republicans favor stricter gun control in Illinois.
One issue pushed by liberals is banning high-capacity ammunition magazines of more than 10 rounds, and the poll found that 63 percent wanted that done. Just 33 percent opposed the idea.
According to the poll, 52 percent of downstaters support the ban (42 percent oppose), as well as 46 percent of conservatives (46 percent oppose) and 44 percent of Republicans (50 percent oppose). Sixty-eight percent of women and 58 percent of men favor the ban, the poll found.
And a clear plurality of 49.7 percent said they believed the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment does not include the right to carry a concealed weapon in public, while just 39.5 percent said it does and 11 percent didn’t know. However, 50 percent of downstaters said the Second Amendment does include this right, while 36 percent said it doesn’t. Sixty-eight percent of Democrats says it doesn’t include the right, while 62 percent of Republicans says it does, showing a very significant partisan divide.
A carry law has to be passed, but as that poll clearly shows, it ain’t gonna be easy.
• Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.