SPRINGFIELD – With just 40 days before a federal court-ordered deadline to enact a law allowing public possession of firearms, Gov. Pat Quinn is holding fast to the notion that decisions about who may carry guns – and where – should be made at city hall, not by a statewide standard.
But the reality in the Statehouse is that a majority of Democrats are having difficulty convincing lawmakers to leave any gun decisions to local control, even if it’s just for Chicago and Cook County, let alone giving police chiefs and county sheriffs statewide veto power.
A federal appeals court in December ruled the state’s last-in-the-nation ban on the carrying of concealed weapons is unconstitutional and gave lawmakers until June 9 to legalize the practice.
Gun owners are adamant the law be uniform across Illinois. They want the General Assembly to produce a “shall issue” bill, requiring permits be issued to most anyone who obtains the necessary training and passes background checks. Gun-control forces favor “may issue” measures that give law enforcement officials veto power.
Quinn, a Chicago Democrat, reiterated his position last week that cities with so-called “home rule” decision-making authority should be able to decide public gun possession within their limits.
“We believe in local government and local control and government that’s close to the people. So having that principle is a very important one,” Quinn said in Chicago. “There are those who want to override that and I don’t think that’s a good idea. I think everybody should have a say in something as important as gun safety.”
It may be, however, that he’s mostly concerned about Chicago, adding later that the “need to battle for that principle” should apply to “at least major parts of our state that have been really challenged by gun violence.”
According to Illinois secretary of state records, Cook County, Chicago and 203 other cities are home-rule units, representing 70 percent of the population. The National Rifle Association and its legislative friends balk at the local option, fearing a “patchwork” of laws that would be too confusing to gun owners traveling from one community to the next. They demand legislation that pre-empts home-rule authority.
They defeated Chicago Democratic Rep. Kelly Cassidy’s legislation in the House two weeks ago that would have created a “may issue” law. But their “shall issue” attempt also failed, although that proposal by longtime concealed carry supporter Rep. Brandon Phelps, a Democrat from Harrisburg, got more than twice as many votes as Cassidy’s.
Now, in the Senate, a proposal touted as a compromise has emerged. The Democrat sponsoring it, Sen. Kwame Raoul of Chicago, pitched it last week as a “shall issue” plan, but it would give Cook County and Chicago police additional discretion. To carry a weapon in the city, an applicant would need an “endorsement” from Chicago police; in suburban Cook County, the sheriff would have to approve.
“There’s a difference between folks who live in certain parts of the state where a lot of people may live miles away from one another and a place where people literally live on top of each other,” Raoul said.
He said a denied endorsement would be no different than state police being able to reject a permit under the Phelps plan if a local sheriff objects on safety grounds. But National Rifle Association lobbyist Todd Vandermyde said Chicago police should not be able to deny an application that state police would issue for the rest of the state.
Vandermyde noted that in the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals decision striking down Illinois’ concealed carry ban, Justice Richard Posner cited past decisions in declaring self-defense a fundamental right.
“How do you sit there and take this fundamental right and decide that it’s meted out by bureaucrats and then you have a different standard depending on what town you live in or travel through?” Vandermyde asked.
Mark Walsh, director of the Illinois Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said upstate New York rules differ from New York City and in Ohio, Cleveland and Columbus have local control. There would be little misunderstanding in Illinois if the rules differed for such a large geographical area as Cook County, he said.
Sen. Tim Bivins of Dixon, the Republican negotiator on the issue, supported Raoul’s idea of a “compromise” giving Chicago more authority if carry permits were more readily available to lawful gun owners in the rest of the state. But he was much more cautious late last week after seeing the proposed language. A more widespread local option is out of the question, the former Lee County sheriff said.
“You would be experiencing, city to city, maybe different laws, and maybe subjected to violating their ordinances,” Bivins said.
A spokesman said Chicago police officials were working with Raoul and other lawmakers but did not have a comment on the endorsement idea.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart’s office isn’t opposed to reviewing permit applicants if it proves the “most protective” process, senior adviser Cara Smith said. But Dart wants clear rules governing who may or may not have guns, she said.
“We’re focused on what are going to be the criteria and the capacity of law enforcement, not just in Cook County or in Chicago, but statewide and specifically the state police,” Smith said, “to get the information that will be necessary to approve the permit.”