Conceal-carry: Heeding court, Illinois becomes 50th state to allow it

Both chambers of the Illinois legislature on Tuesday overrode a veto on the matter by Gov. Pat Quinn. About 300,000 residents could apply for conceal-carry permits, although some details of the law have to be worked out first.

M. Spencer Green/AP
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn speaks during a news conference Wednesday, in Chicago.

Illinois became the final state to allow gun owners to carry concealed firearms in public. The Tuesday vote in both chambers of the state legislature overrode a veto by Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D), who pushed for tougher restrictions on where concealed weapons are allowed, among other measures.

The vote now sets in motion a six-month period for state police officials and the legislature to determine permitting procedure, as well as make clarifications to the law such as exactly where guns are banned or what defines proper concealment.

It will cost about $25 million to establish and operate a system that will process conceal-carry applications, Illinois State Police say. About 300,000 residents are expected to apply.

Governor Quinn had tried to get lawmakers to prohibit concealed weapons in establishments that serve alcohol. That was struck down, along with his proposal to limit to one the number of handguns a person could carry simultaneously.

As the law stands, private property owners, along with businesses, can prohibit concealed guns on their premises, although rules for obtaining the proper signage are not yet established. Also, guns will not be allowed in schools, libraries, parks, and mass-transit buses and trains.

The bill is the result of a ruling last December by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago saying that the existing ban on conceal-carry weaponry in public was unconstitutional. The state was given 180 days to craft a law legalizing conceal-carry. That deadline passed June 9, but the state was given a 30-day extension to pass the law.

If the state had not acted by Tuesday, default legislation would have taken hold, but up until the deadline, the state was allowed to impose certain restrictions.

Some lawmakers criticized Quinn for waiting until the 11th hour to veto the bill because they said more time would have allowed for a more productive debate on the issue.

Quinn released a statement late Tuesday that the legislature “surrendered to the National Rifle Association ... and passed a flawed bill ....” He added, “Public safety should never be compromised or negotiated away.”

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, as well as Quinn, used a recent surge in violence in the city – 74 people were wounded and 12 killed by gun violence over the four-day Fourth of July weekend – to say that more, not less, gun restrictions are necessary.

“Having effective gun control is essential for providing safety throughout the city,” he told reporters Tuesday.

Next Wednesday, the Chicago City Council is holding a special session to pass measures that would strengthen its existing ordinance banning the sale, transfer, and possession of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Mayor Emanuel also wants stricter penalties for gun crimes – a minimum three-year sentence, for example – and even harsher penalties for crimes committed on or near school grounds.

Despite criticism from the state’s top Democrats, the bill’s passage received praise from downstate lawmakers. Moreover, the veto override is being interpreted as a weakening of the governor, who is running for reelection against members of two formidable state dynasties: Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the daughter of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan; and Bill Daley, former White House chief of staff under President Obama and the brother of former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley.

State Rep. Brandon Phelps (D), who represents a district in southern Illinois, told the Associated Press that Quinn is “trying to cater to, pander to Cook County,” which includes Chicago. He continued, “And I don’t blame him ... because that’s where his votes are.”

The new law is less restrictive than one in New York City, which gives law enforcement officials more leeway in determining who ultimately gets the conceal-carry permits. In Illinois, anyone with a firearm owner’s identification card can get the permit if he or she passes a background check, pays $150, and goes through a 16-hour gun-safety course. That training period, however, is the longest required by any state.

Even those restrictions are vulnerable to challenges from gun-rights advocates, says Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association. Possible legal challenges “will be to shorten up the training,” he says. “It’s too long.... There will also be some attempts to lower the permitting fees.”

However, Mr. Pearson says he does not expect any legal battles in the first two years, allowing the system to get up and running.

At the other end of the debate, gun-safety advocates say they want to push legislators to reconsider allowing concealed weaponry in establishments that serve alcohol. These are places, they say, where gun violence is most likely to occur.

“Ultimately, alcohol and guns don’t mix, period. That’s why we have really tough DUI laws. Everyone knows they don’t mix, so why are we even allowing it to happen?” says Colleen Daley, executive director of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence. “We don’t think the fight is over. We need more common-sense proposals.”

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