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Committee nixes gun restrictions for county gov't employees

Published: Monday, Jan. 13, 2014 3:45 p.m. CST • Updated: Monday, Jan. 13, 2014 11:05 p.m. CST

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WOODSTOCK – A McHenry County Board committee took a proposed policy restricting concealed carry for its employees out back and shot it.

The committee voted Monday, 5-0, against moving forward with a policy that would forbid non-law enforcement county employees from carrying handguns during their official duties, even if they have a valid state permit. The proposal would have exempted the 24-member County Board and other county-level elected officials.

It became obvious early into the debate the measure did not have the votes needed to pass. The consensus by the time of the vote, reached in part by comments from two members of the county’s pro-concealed-carry organization, was that the measure is unnecessary, ambiguous and unduly restrictive of employees’ Second Amendment rights. The Illinois State Police began earlier this month to accept applications for concealed-carry permits.

“I feel we’re impeding on an employee’s right to do something outside their scope of work,” committee member Michael Skala, R-Huntley, said.

The proposed rule would have forbidden county employees from carrying in county-owned vehicles or their own personal vehicles while on the clock. The state concealed-carry law already forbids carrying in government buildings, but allows people with the permit to store their weapons in their locked vehicles and out of view if entering a place where carrying is banned.

About 350 county employees are allowed to use their personal vehicles for work to varying degrees, Deputy County Administrator John Labaj said. Opponents said essentially requiring said employees who get concealed-carry permits to leave their weapons at home as a requirement of their jobs was unfair. Once people go through the state-mandated course, get a background check and get a permit, they have the right to carry and store their weapons in their vehicles, committee member Anna May Miller, R-Cary, said.

“I am uncomfortable with [the restriction], right on its face,” Miller said.

Skala further questioned how many employees even own firearms or will get the permit, and asked whether the committee was crafting a restriction that would only apply to a handful of people. County Board member Nick Provenzano, R-McHenry, spoke to the committee in opposition to the proposed limits. He is not on the committee, but is a founding member of the McHenry County Right to Carry Association.

He called concerns about liability a “red herring” and warned that a civil rights lawsuit brought by any employee opposed to the restrictions could prove costly. He also pointed out that elected officials exempting themselves from rules they expect others to follow doesn’t sit well with voters. “When government officials start exempting themselves from their laws, it shows they’re out of touch,” Provenzano said.

Provenzano’s warning about litigation is valid, given that gun-rights groups in Illinois and elsewhere have enjoyed repeated court victories overturning restrictive gun-control laws. State lawmakers last year crafted the concealed-carry bill after a federal court struck down the state’s total ban – Illinois was the last remaining state to not allow some form of carrying handguns for self-defense in public. A federal court last week invalidated Chicago’s ban on selling firearms in city limits.

The fact that McHenry County seems to be the only area government worried about concealed carry also factored in to the committee’s rejection. When asked what other counties are doing, Labaj said he found after calling them in recent weeks that they’re not doing anything.

There was talk of continuing the debate to include involving the board’s Law and Justice Committee and sending confidential surveys to employees, but Provenzano pushed them to vote, citing the fact that the majority clearly had significant problems with the proposal.

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.

What it means

The McHenry County Board Management Services Committee voted Monday morning, 5-0, against proposed concealed-carry restrictions on county government employees. The restrictions would have exempted elected officials,

Committee members John Hammerand, R-Wonder Lake, and Michael Walkup, R-Crystal Lake, were absent.

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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