A hard-fought compromise bill allowing Illinois residents to legally carry concealed weapons is on Gov. Pat Quinn’s desk.
But Quinn, a staunch gun-control advocate, faces the Damoclean sword of a July 9 deadline set by a federal court that invalidated the state’s ban on concealed carry.
House Bill 183 passed both houses on the last day of the spring session May 31, with the three-fifths majorities needed to override a veto.
The following is a guide to how this debate got started, and what the bill will do.
Q: How did we get concealed carry?
A: The U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Illinois’ ban on concealed carry last December, concluding that the Second Amendment applies outside of an individual’s home.
A downstate woman who was savagely attacked while working as a church treasurer sued in 2011 – she has handguns and firearms training but was unarmed because of the law.
Realizing the public safety issues involved, the appeals court granted Illinois lawmakers a deadline of June 9 to craft legislation regulating concealed carry. They since have pushed the deadline to July 9 at the request of Attorney General Lisa Madigan so Quinn has time to review the bill.
The ruling was the latest in a string of legal victories for gun-rights groups. U.S. Supreme Court decisions in 2008 and 2010 invalidated handgun bans at the federal and state levels.
Illinois was the only state in the union with a total ban on concealed carry.
Q: So citizens of the other 49 states are allowed to carry concealed weapons?
A: Not quite – the laws vary wildly.
States such as Hawaii, Maryland and New Jersey have concealed-carry provisions, but the laws are so strict that it is almost impossible for an ordinary citizen to get permission. Other states, such as Alaska, Vermont and Arizona, do not require permits to carry a concealed weapon.
Residents of conservative Alaska and liberal Vermont do not even have to conceal them, and can carry handguns openly.
Q: The General Assembly convened in January. Why did they get this done at the last minute?
A: The primary reason is the ideological divide over gun rights in Illinois.
Chicago lawmakers advocate strict gun control. Downstate lawmakers, Democrat and Republican alike, support gun rights, and suburban lawmakers are a mixed bag. So laws that tilt too heavily toward one side or the other usually do not have the votes to pass.
Q: How does this proposed law work?
A: Residents with a valid FOID card can pay a $150 nonrefundable application fee to the Illinois State Police – the fee is $300 for nonresidents – and must complete a 16-hour training course. The license is good for five years, and a three-hour refresher course will be required for renewal.
The state police have 180 days from the day the bill becomes law to set up the permit system.
Q: Are there public safety checks and balances?
A: Yes. Local law enforcement agencies can submit an objection to granting a license if they have a reasonable suspicion that the applicant is a danger to himself or others. That applicant can appeal the objection to a seven-member state review board.
The bill also sets up additional reporting requirements for schools and physicians to help keep weapons out of the hands of the mentally unstable.
Q: Where can I carry and where can’t I?
A: Concealed carry would not be allowed on mass transit, in schools and college campuses, government buildings and courthouses, parks, stadiums, hospitals and street festivals. It would be allowed in restaurants and other businesses that serve alcohol only if alcohol makes up less than half of their total sales.
The bill also makes it a crime to carry a concealed weapon while intoxicated.
Businesses have the right to forbid concealed weapons from their premises if they post a sign banning them.
The bill allows permit holders to keep loaded weapons in a secured vehicle, meaning they can be left there if going to one of the places where concealed carry is banned.
Q: Some media agencies have “outed” gun owners in other states by printing lists of concealed-carry and firearm permit holders. Could that happen here?
A: No. The bill exempts concealed-carry permits from the Illinois Freedom of Information Act – FOID cards already are exempt. The bill also exempts the review board from the Illinois Open Meetings Act.
Q: Could Quinn use his amendatory veto power to tack unrelated gun-control measures onto the bill?
A: He could try, and he has done so before, but he almost certainly would fail.
Quinn last year completely rewrote a gun rights bill regarding ammunition sales into an assault weapons ban, which has not had the votes to pass. But lawmakers unanimously overrode his amendatory veto.
Also, the Illinois Supreme Court has ruled that a governor cannot use his amendatory veto power to fundamentally change a piece of legislation’s purpose.
Q: Could Madigan appeal the 7th Circuit’s ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court?
A: Madigan asked for and received an extended deadline to June 24 to appeal if she so wishes. If the bill becomes law before that, the court case becomes moot and Madigan loses the right to appeal.