SPRINGFIELD – The courts, the Capitol and the clock are complicating a debate over how to end the prohibition on carrying concealed firearms in Illinois.
There are fewer than 30 days left before a judicial deadline for developing a framework on allowing public weapons possession in the only state that currently has a ban. Attempts at legislative remedies failed in the House late last month, including one endorsed by the National Rifle Association that could resurface. Senators may try a version of their own as early as this week.
Sen. Kwame Raoul, a Chicago Democrat, is refining an earlier concealed-carry proposal that drew gun owners’ derision last month. Discussions with Senate Democrats could produce a consensus plan that could get a vote within days, spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon said.
A federal court order in December that found the ban unconstitutional set a June 9 deadline for solving the problem. The question divides lawmakers along geographical and political lines and even splits the two chambers – both led by Democrats.
Here are some questions and answers about the issue:
Q: How has Illinois avoided the concealed-carry wave?
A: In a word: Chicago. For decades, it has been one of the nation’s more violent cities. It’s also a city dominated by Democrats, a party whose liberal wing has generally clung to strict restrictions on guns, at least in the half-century since gun control shot to the top of the national consciousness after the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Sen. Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.
Q: What’s the feeling outside Chicago?
A: The gun-rights agenda is far less party-based. Democrats and Republicans alike, particularly in central and southern Illinois, represent thousands of hunters and sports shooters; they are more conservative with stronger views about Second Amendment liberties.
Q: If this has been going on for years, why all the hubbub now?
A: A lawful gun-owning woman in Union County, in southern Illinois, was brutally beaten and left for dead in September 2009 while at work as a church treasurer. Despite her firearms-safety training and permits to carry concealed weapons in two states, she was unarmed because of Illinois’ law. She sued in federal court in May 2011. The case was combined with another when it went before the 7th Circuit appeals court. The ruling, issued on Dec. 11, overruled two lower courts and found the right to keep and bear arms applies beyond someone’s front door.
“The right to ‘bear’ as distinct from the right to ‘keep’ arms is unlikely to refer to the home,” Judge Richard Posner wrote for the majority. “To speak of ‘bearing’ arms within one’s home would at all times have been an awkward usage. A right to bear arms thus implies a right to carry a loaded gun outside the home.”
Q: What’s the impact of the ruling?
A: The court gave Illinois 180 days – until June 9 – to enact a concealed-carry law.
NRA-backed legislation in the House would require concealed-carry permit to be issued to applicants who have a valid Firearm Owners’ Identification Card, complete training and clear a background check. It fell seven votes short of passage last month but the proposal’s sponsor, Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, could recall it.
Q: What happens if no law is enacted by June 9?
A: Gun-rights advocates use the term “constitutional carry” to describe a state in which, with an obsolete, discredited law on the books, Illinoisans could carry any type of weapon anywhere, at any time, concealed or not.
Technically, only those defendants directly affected by the 7th Circuit’s ruling – the attorney general and Union County law enforcement officials – would be prevented from enforcing the law. But it’s likely anyone arrested for illegal weapons possession would have a strong case for having a conviction tossed out based on the 7th Circuit’s ruling.
Phelps wants to avoid that scenario.
“A lot of gun owners don’t want a lot of restrictions so they want to go off the cliff,” Phelps said. “I’m worried about that because of the uncertainty that it brings.”
Q: What are the other plans?
A: Raoul’s Senate proposal initially required not only that state police review concealed carry permit applicants but that those who live in Cook County or Chicago would have to receive an “endorsement” from police in those in those jurisdictions to carry. Raoul has since removed the Cook County provision, Phelon confirmed.
Gun owners oppose a special endorsement for a certain part of the state.
Phelon said “a few constructive weeks of discussions” could put the legislation on a path for a vote as early as this week.
Q: Could the state still appeal the court ruling?
A: Yes. Attorney General Lisa Madigan has not decided whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but earlier this month, the court granted her request for more time to make that decision, until June 24.
That, of course, is after the court’s deadline. If the General Assembly and Quinn agree to a law by then, the court case is moot and there could be no appeal.