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Senate panel OKs restrictive concealed carry bill; full Senate could vote Friday

May 16, 2013 at 08:27 PM

The State Journal-Register

A Chicago Democrat’s restrictive concealed-carry legislation made it through a Senate committee Thursday, with opponents vowing again to fight its passage.

The measure, which gives local law enforcement veto power for permits and home-rule municipalities additional say over where people can carry a weapon in public, passed the Senate Executive Committee by a party-line 10-4 vote. All Republicans except Senate GOP Leader Christine Radogno voted “no.” She voted “present.”

Todd Vandermyde, lobbyist for the National Rifle Association in Illinois, said House Bill 183 isn’t a “carry bill” but a means to deny Illinoisans the right to carry a weapon in public.

“In our eyes, this is not a carry bill. This is a bill to discourage people and prevent people from carrying a firearm and exercising their constitutional, fundamental right to keep and bear arms for self-defense in the public,” Vandermyde said. “You can put lipstick on a pig and it’s still a pig. And that’s what this is.”

Lawmakers have until June 9 to enact legislation due to a federal appellate court decision in December that struck down Illinois’ last-in-the-nation ban on concealed carry.

Sponsoring Sen. Kwame Raoul said he believes the restrictions in HB 183 are needed to protect public safety by keeping guns out of the wrong hands and out of sensitive places.

But many lawmakers expressed concerns over a provision that requires a person to have “good moral character” — the basis on which local law enforcement could object to a person’s application — and “proper cause” to carry a weapon in Illinois.

“What are you looking for? The guy didn’t go to enough of his kids’ softball games …? That someone drank too much, that they didn’t spend enough time at home? … What is it that you’re looking for in that?” asked Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon.

Illinois State Police Lt. Darrin Clark cited as an example a person who has had repeated run-ins with police despite never having been charged with a crime.

“There’s a number of individuals that are ‘on the bubble,’ so to speak, that are not a risk at this point, but there’s just something not quite right,” Clark said. “There would have to be a pattern of behavior that had been documented.”

But Righter argued the bill’s language is too vague and could lead to law enforcement denying permits to basically anyone they wish.

The bill also would allow the 200-plus home-rule municipalities in Illinois, including Springfield, a six-month window to set up gun-free zones in addition to the ones already in the bill, including government buildings, amusement parks, child care facilities, police stations, alcohol-serving establishments and private businesses if the owner wishes, among others. Guns would also be banned from public transit, a key element sought by Chicago lawmakers.

Opponents argued that a “patchwork” of different rules would confuse gun owners.

“Don’t they kind of have to know town-by-town what the restrictions are, and isn’t that potentially undue burden on them to exercise that (Second Amendment) right?” said Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine.

With no limits as to the type of places or buildings home-rule units can deem off-limits, Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville, raised the concern that some cities could create enough restrictions to potentially ban concealed carry entirely.

“If you get a community that’s too restrictive, doesn’t that trample on gun rights?” Luechtefeld asked.

Anyone wanting a concealed-carry permit would already be subject to background checks and training, and also would need to have a valid Firearms Owner Identification card.

Raoul’s bill also would close a loophole in the law regulating private gun sales, requiring a seller to verify that a prospective buyer has a valid FOID card. Raoul said that addresses the issue of people using revoked FOID cards to buy weapons.

HB 183 could come up for a vote in the Senate as early as today, Raoul said.

Lauren Leone-Cross can be reached at 782-6292.

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