SPRINGFIELD – Gun rights advocates fell silent in the Illinois House on Thursday night after falling seven votes short of approving the public possession of firearms statewide despite a federal court order that gives legislators just weeks to put such a law on the books.
The proposal creating a method to permit qualified gun owners to carry concealed weapons failed 64-45. The measure needed a supermajority of 71 votes because the legislation would trump the right of the state's larger cities to set up their own laws.
For the second time in as many days, a House vote on concealed carry demonstrated the chasm between gun rights advocates and those who want tighter restrictions on them.
Illinois is the only state in the nation that continues to prohibit public weapons possession. But a federal appeals court ruled the ban unconstitutional in December and ordered lawmakers to enact a law allowing it. Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, the concealed carry legislation sponsor, said if the Legislature misses the deadline, "constitutional carry" – allowing possession of any weapon without a permit – would take effect.
"If it's so scary, why isn't there one other state in this country that's repealed concealed carry? Because it works," Phelps said in a closing statement after floor debate that was limited to 10 speakers but still lasted an hour.
After the measure failed, Phelps used a parliamentary procedure allowing him to recall the bill for another vote. He said a June 9 deadline imposed by the federal court leaves little time to find agreement on alternate legislation.
Phelps said he believed he had enough votes to gain approval but that Gov. Pat Quinn lobbied hard against him.
"Correct – the governor is not for that bill," Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said, adding that the Democrat "believes that local communities should have the option of enacting their own stronger protections for public safety."
Gun laws have long divided Illinois along geographical lines, not necessarily political ones. Democrats in Chicago worry about street violence, while Democrats and Republicans in other parts of the state stand by the 2nd Amendment.
And of course, there are the avid hunters and sports shooters.
"The only hunting that's happening in my area is of young men," said Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a Chicago Democrat who offered legislation Wednesday that would empower local and state police to decide to withhold a concealed-carry permit regardless of whether an applicant met the requirements.
Called a "may issue" concealed-carry law, Cassidy's measure was modeled on the New York law that survived a potential challenge before the U.S. Supreme Court this week. It received only 31 votes. That's far fewer than those willing to support Phelps on his "shall issue" proposal, which would allow anyone who meets the training and background check requirements to carry.
Rep. Jerry Costello, a Democrat from Smithton, near St. Louis, echoed gun advocates' complaints that Chicago has among the toughest anti-gun laws in the country while continuing to lead the nation in gun-related homicides. Costello said about 2,000 U.S. troops have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001, and 5,000 people have been killed in Chicago during the same period.
"If you've ever traveled outside the state of Illinois, you've been in a state that has concealed carry and you probably didn't even notice," said Rep. Michael Unes, R-East Peoria. "But the people who do notice are the criminals."
Phelps said he and supporters would "regroup," deciding the next move. But he and National Rifle Association lobbyist Todd Vandermyde hinted they've given as much ground in negotiations as they're going to give.
"I'm not sure there's much else for us to talk about," Vandermyde said, adding that with Cassidy's measure, "We proved that we can kill a bad bill."