Experts differ on whether new gun law applies only to home rule municipalities

Do non-home-rule municipalities such as Richmond have the power to enact bans on assault-style weapons under the concealed-carry bill?

It depends on whom you ask.

The concealed-carry bill in its original form gives municipalities 10 days from when it takes effect to ban such weapons or lose the chance. The law firm that represents many of McHenry County’s municipalities says the language applies to all incorporated towns. Gun-rights groups, as well as the bill’s chief sponsor in the House, say that only cities with home rule have the choice.

That ambiguity, opponents said, could lead to towns that enact such bans facing lawsuits from gun groups that have enjoyed a wave of success in getting gun-control laws overturned.

The Richmond Village Board last Wednesday rejected, 6-0, a proposed ban after public outcry. The language was drafted by the law firm of Zukowski Rogers Flood & McArdle, which sent an email bulletin to municipalities Tuesday in the wake of Gov. Pat Quinn’s long-anticipated amendatory veto of the bill legalizing concealed carry.

“If the bill does pass in either original or amended form, then municipalities that are interested in enacting an assault weapon ordinance will have 10 days from the bill’s enactment to pass the ordinance, and home-rule units would possibly have longer,” wrote firm attorney Brad Stewart, who has been studying the bill in preparation for its enactment.

But that assessment is not accurate, said Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, who helped draft the bill after fighting for years to get concealed carry – Illinois is the last state in the union to not allow some form of it. Phelps told the Northwest Herald that lawmakers’ intent was for only home-rule municipalities to have that choice.

The reason, according to Phelps and Illinois State Rifle Association Executive Director Richard Pearson, was to prevent law-abiding gun owners from being caught in a web of differing gun laws from town to town.

“The intent of the law was that small villages couldn’t do this,” Pearson said.

The term “assault-style weapon” refers to regular semiautomatic rifles that cosmetically look like military weapons, and share at least one feature of them such as the ability to accept a high-capacity magazine, but only fire one round at a time. Civilian ownership of an automatic weapon is already illegal in Illinois.

State lawmakers are meeting Tuesday in special session to vote on a motion to override Quinn’s veto, which Phelps filed within an hour of Quinn submitting it. After months of debate between gun-rights and gun-control legislators, a compromise bill was approved by both houses on the last day of session May 31 with three-fifths, veto-proof majorities. Tuesday is also the deadline that a federal court set for Illinois to develop concealed-carry legislation before its December ruling striking down the state’s total ban on carrying concealed weapons takes effect.

The 10-day clock for cities to ban assault-style weapons starts ticking when the bill becomes law. But should Quinn’s veto stand, home-rule units would not have any time limit.

Home rule allows municipalities to exert powers, such as additional taxation, that are not prohibited by state law. Municipalities without home rule can only exert powers specifically granted to them under state law. There are 209 home-rule municipalities in Illinois, according to the Illinois Municipal League. While cities with at least 25,000 residents automatically get home-rule power under the Illinois Constitution, smaller towns can enact home rule by voter referendum. 

Stewart’s reading of the bill is shared by Brian Day, an attorney for the municipal league. Day said that nothing in the concealed-carry bill as written limits the ban power solely to home-rule governments. He said the interpretation likely comes because the section also contains a provision pre-empting home-rule authority. 

“From a policy perspective, if you’re looking at the ability of a city government to draft a policy that’s a correct fit for its community, it wouldn’t necessarily make sense to apply this only to home rule and have it apply to the city that has 25,000 population but not to the city that has 24,900,” Day said.

However, Day acknowledged that “the legislature didn’t do us any favors by being overly specific” when it drafted the bill, and also acknowledged that the question could land non-home-rule governments that impose assault-style weapons bans in court. State Rep. Jack Franks, an attorney, said that the bill could be open to interpretation.

“I think [Phelps’] intention was just for home-rule communities, but as I read the minutiae of the language, I could see how it could be interpreted the other way because there’s no limiting language. I see there could be an argument either way,” said Franks, D-Marengo.

Franks and McHenry County’s other representatives in Springfield have said they intend to vote to override Quinn’s veto.

Pearson, state rifle association director and a former mayor, joked that town attorneys would benefit from communities passing laws that would cause them to face litigation. He also said that home-rule communities also could face lawsuits if they enact such bans.

“And if [the municipality] loses, it’s going to cost them a lot,” Pearson said.

The Marengo City Council last month placed discussion of an assault-style weapons ban on its meeting agenda, but decided against moving forward after city residents spoke out against it and the police chief said in a memo that he did not see the need.

Of the two dozen municipalities listed by the state rifle association as discussing bans, all but four are home rule.

The bill in question would allow Illinois residents to obtain a concealed-carry permit, good for five years, for a $150 fee and after completing a 16-hour training course. The Illinois state police have 180 days from the day the bill becomes law to set up the permit system.

The bill also mandates increased mental health reporting requirements, and allows local law enforcement to object to granting a license if they have a reasonable suspicion that the applicant is a danger to himself or others.

What’s next

The General Assembly will meet Tuesday in special session and vote on a motion to override Gov. Pat Quinn’s amendatory veto of the concealed carry law. Tuesday is also the deadline to enact concealed-carry legislation before a federal court ruling takes effect invalidating Illinois’ total ban on carrying concealed weapons in public.

On the Net

You can read House Bill 183 and Quinn’s amendatory veto message on the General Assembly’s website at www.ilga.gov.

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