SPRINGFIELD – An Illinois Senate panel approved a measure Thursday allowing the carrying of concealed weapons, but the committee's move followed sharp questioning from Republicans concerning whether packing a gun in Chicago should require special permission and how authorities would determine who is fit to carry.
The Senate Executive Committee voted 10-4 to advance the legislation sponsored by Sen. Kwame Raoul, a Chicago Democrat. Senate President John Cullerton said the bill might get a Senate floor vote Friday.
Raoul is selling the measure as a permissive way for gun owners to take their weapons out in public, as demanded by a federal court decree in December that declared Illinois' concealed carry ban unconstitutional. But gun owners, led by the National Rifle Association, deride the legislation as restrictive, potentially confusing and ripe for lawsuits. The Republican chosen to negotiate a deal on the issue with Raoul, Sen. Tim Bivins of Dixon, opposes the proposal.
"It's an imperfect process, it's an imperfect product, but it's an attempt to act on something," Raoul told the committee. "I don't know what the end game is, but I'm trying to do something to respond to the mandate of the court, to promote public safety and balance the right of law-abiding gun owners in the process."
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms applies outside the home and ordered Illinois to jettison its ban on public possession by June 9. Gun advocates have struggled for years to bring concealed carry to the state, now the nation's lone holdout. They've mostly been stymied by Chicago lawmakers sensitive to the carnage handguns – mostly illegally obtained – cause on the streets of the nation's third-largest city.
The most vociferous opposition to the measure has been over a provision that would require gun owners who want to carry in Chicago to get not only a statewide permit from the Illinois State Police, but from the Chicago police. Raoul has repeatedly said the density of Chicago creates greater "sensitivities" to guns and requires an extra layer of scrutiny.
But the NRA has rebutted Raoul's contention that the legislation creates a "shall issue" permit system, requiring police to OK public gun possession for anyone who obtains the proper training and passes a background check. That's because it contains language requiring police to find that an applicant is "of good moral character" and has a "proper reason" for carrying a gun.
"This is not a carry bill. This is a bill to discourage people and prevent people from exercising their fundamental, constitutional right to keep and bear arms for self-defense in the public," NRA lobbyist Todd Vandermyde said.
Raoul dismissed GOP Sen. Dale Righter's concern that someone could be denied a gun permit for nebulous reasons like not being a good parent.
Cullerton, also a Chicago Democrat, supports the bill and said a vote could come as early as Friday, two weeks before the General Assembly's scheduled adjournment.