Ill. grapples with deploying conceal-carry law

EDWARDSVILLE – Across Illinois, residents are welcoming the chance to finally pack a gun – and some are even asking a federal court for permission to start toting weapons next week, rather than waiting months for the state to implement its newly approved concealed carry law.

Even before lawmakers overrode Gov. Pat Quinn’s objections to the nation’s last gun-carry law on Tuesday, the focus had begun to turn to the challenges for authorities and business owners in making the measure work before the first permits are issued.

But the ink had barely dried on the new law before gun-rights hero Mary Shepard, whose lawsuit led to passage of Illinois’ carry measure, went back to federal court Wednesday seeking to start carrying next Tuesday. Her motion, backed by the Illinois State Rifle Association, argues that an unconstitutional ban on packing pistols remains because it will be as long as nine months before the first carry permits are approved in Illinois.

A federal appeals court ruled on Shepard’s and another case in December and lawmakers dawdled until this week, Shepard argues.

“Given the opportunity (and ample time) to act promptly to remedy its violation of the Constitution, the state of Illinois instead procrastinated,” the motion reads.

Some authorities have in the past month agreed with the interpretation, allowing citizens to start carrying guns or at least announcing they wouldn’t be prosecuted if they did, because the Illinois prohibition had been declared unconstitutional.

One place that happened is Madison County, outside St. Louis, where the state’s attorney announced he would stop prosecuting locals for carrying concealed weapons, within certain rules.

In Edwardsville this week, from a newly opened bakery to a tattoo parlor to a funeral home, a sampling of business proprietors said they were glad Illinois was finally joining the national fold.

“I just believe this will level the playing field,” Edward Rodney said at the Weber & Rodney Funeral home he helps operate. “If you have a responsible person wanting to carry a concealed weapon, what’s the difference between them and a police officer carrying a gun in public? You’ve got to put some trust in the public, which I do.”

Tom Gibbons, the county’s Democratic state’s attorney, downplayed worries among concealed-carry opponents that an increasingly armed populace could stoke violence by making firearms a means of resolving conflicts. The prosecutor said such predicted mayhem hasn’t surfaced in other states.

“As long as it’s done responsibly and reasonably, no one will even notice this happened, by and large,” said Gibbons, vowing to get his own permit as soon as the process is put in place. “I will be in line.”

After months of debate that demonstrated the divide between Chicago and the rest of the state, lawmakers on Tuesday narrowly beat a federal court deadline and adopted the concealed carry law over Quinn’s vehement objections. The next steps include the state putting in place a permit system and educating the public about where guns can and can’t be carried.

Those eager to make use of the law may need patience. The law directs authorities to issue carry permits to applicants who have a Firearm Owner’s Identification card, passes a background check and undergoes 16 hours of training, the most in the nation.

Illinois State Police have six months to set up a concealed carry program before accepting applications, which the agency estimates will number 300,000 in the first year. Once an application is received, police have 90 days to approve or reject them.

Shepard and gun owners argue that’s not their fault. Shepard, a gun owner who completed safety courses, was a 69-year-old Cobden, Ill., church secretary in 2009 when she was beaten by an intruder and left for dead. She filed a lawsuit that led to this week’s law, saying if she had not been barred from carrying a gun, she could have thwarted the attack.

Shepard filed a separate motion disputing a request Tuesday by Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who chose not to appeal the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling to the Supreme Court, to dismiss the lawsuit as moot now that there’s a law.

Madigan spokeswoman Natalie Bauer would not comment on how the attorney general would respond, but reiterated Madigan’s position.

“The new law resolves the constitutional issues that were raised,” Bauer said.

State officials also have 60 days to set up firearms training courses and list approved courses on the department’s website, leaving even certified firearms instructors uncertain about what they’ll be required to teach.

“I expect it to be the dead of winter before you see anything tangible,” said David Price, a firearms instructor for the last 12 years in Madison County’s Granite City.

Meanwhile, potential applicants are waiting. Over the past couple of months, Price said he has amassed a list of several dozen people interested in taking firearms training from him.

At the Capitol City Arms Supply store in Springfield, John Jackson said his business has spiked since last year’s court ruling, and “our phone has been ringing off the hook” with calls from customers wanting to make use of his shop’s indoor shooting range and related training.

Yet Jackson cautions that concealable guns and the ammunition for them have been a struggle to keep in stock, a shortage that has played out across the country since last December’s school massacre in Newtown, Conn.

“I have increased my order five times what I normally do to keep it in stock. It’s very hard to get,” Jackson said.

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