County adds exemption to employee firearm rule

Gun-carry limit wouldn’t apply to elected officials

A new version of the McHenry County Board’s proposed concealed-carry restrictions for county employees now contains an exemption the first draft did not – themselves.

The latest draft exempts county-level elected officials from the policy, which, if approved, will forbid county employees who are not in law enforcement from carrying handguns during their official duties, even if they have a valid state permit.

The draft is scheduled to go to a vote Monday before the Management Services Committee, which pushed it off last month after discussions about exempting elected officials. Deputy County Administrator John Labaj said Thursday that committee members expressed concerns that applying the ban to elected officials who essentially are on call 24 hours a day could cause them to inadvertently run afoul of the rule for something as simple as talking to a constituent.

The county’s elected officials are the board’s 24 members; the offices of auditor, sheriff, circuit clerk, state’s attorney, coroner, county clerk, treasurer, recorder and regional superintendent of schools; and the eight elected judges of the 22nd Judicial Circuit. Sheriffs are empowered for obvious reasons to carry weapons under state law, which also grants the privilege to coroners.

After some wrangling about when an elected official is on duty or off, committee members instructed the state’s attorney’s office to exempt them altogether.

“We took their direction, essentially, that given the nature of elected officials, unlike [government] employees, there is a strong argument that they are on duty around the clock,” Civil Division Chief Donna Kelly said.

Illinois’ new concealed-carry law already forbids carrying in government buildings and courthouses, but the county’s guidelines specifically forbid rank-and-file employees who do not carry weapons as part of their job from carrying on county property, or in county-owned or personal vehicles while on the clock. While the new proposed language exempts the elected officials from the two-page policy, it also specifically states that they can carry a concealed weapon while using privately-owned vehicles for county business.

The Illinois State Police began processing concealed-carry permit requests Jan. 5. State lawmakers hashed out a concealed-carry law last year after a federal judge in December 2012 struck down Illinois’ total ban as unconstitutional. Illinois was the last state to deny its citizens some form of carrying firearms in public.

Illinois’ law, one of the more stringent of the 50 states, allows residents to obtain a five-year concealed-carry permit for a $150 fee after completing a 16-hour training course, the longest of any state. Nonresidents must pay a $300 fee for a permit. Illinois does not recognize concealed-carry permits from other states, although the new law allows nonresidents passing through to keep their weapons in their cars.

Besides government facilities and courthouses, carrying is forbidden in parks and festivals, mass transit, schools and colleges, hospitals, stadiums, bars, and dining establishments that make more than half of their revenue from alcohol sales.

Business owners can ban concealed weapons from their properties, but must place a sign designed by the state police at the entrance. However, the law allows people to store their weapons in their locked vehicles in parking lots where carrying is banned by law or by the establishment owner.

A number of County Board members, countywide elected officials and county employees are members of the McHenry County Right to Carry Association, President Mickey Schuch said. The group, formed to push for the right to concealed carry in Illinois, does not divulge its membership list.

Schuch said the group is watching the county’s proposed limitation closely, and members have expressed their concerns to various County Board members. He said he understands the county’s desire to limit liability, but said it should not come at the cost of depriving employees of the right to defend themselves while out in the community.

“Just because you work for the county, the state or anybody, any type of situation where one would have to defend themselves, who knows when that day or moment may come?” Schuch said.

The courts in recent years have struck down numerous Illinois gun-control laws at the state and local levels as violating the Second Amendment right to bear arms. A day after the state police began accepting concealed-carry permit requests, a federal judge ruled that Chicago’s ban on the sale of guns in city limits is unconstitutional.

What it means

A McHenry County Board proposal to forbid county employees from carrying concealed weapons on taxpayer time has been amended to exempt County Board members and other county-level elected officials.

What’s next

The Management Services Committee will meet at 8:30 a.m. Monday at the county Administration Building, 667 Ware Road, to vote on the recommendation for later board approval.

On the Net

You can read the state’s new concealed-carry law at http://shawurl.com/y0k, and find the online application and a list of qualified local instructors at http://shawurl.com/y0l.

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