Concealed-carry options still under discussion in legislature

May 16, 2011 at 08:27 AM

The sponsor of a failed bill that would have allowed Illinois residents to carry concealed firearms is looking for a way to round up the six additional votes the measure needs to pass, and that might involve giving county sheriffs discretion to issue permits.

The Illinois House rejected statewide concealed-carry earlier this month, partly due to the ardent opposition of Chicago legislators. Some Chicago lawmakers said a one-size-fits-all bill wasn’t right for their city, which has been haunted by gun violence, including the high-profile shooting deaths of police officers.

The measure got 65 votes, but needed 71. Only two Chicago legislators voted for the bill, and only two downstate legislators voted “no.”

The regional divide raised the question of why the legislature doesn’t allow communities to decide for themselves.

“Conceal and carry in the city of Chicago is going to be considerably different than conceal and carry in a city like Cairo or Mahomet,” said Rep. Marlow Colvin, D-Chicago, who voted against the measure.

“I understand the dichotomy of the issue between the city of Chicago and downstate – everybody here does. Why we won’t acknowledge that when we develop legislation is beyond me.”

Willing to talk

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, said he no longer thinks concealed-carry can pass this spring, but he’s willing to talk to Chicago legislators to see if anything can be done.

“I’m for anything right now to get it passed,” Phelps said. “Not just in my district, but law-abiding gun owners in the whole state are getting slapped in the face.”

One potential idea is to change the measure’s language from stating that county sheriffs “shall issue” permits – that they must give a concealed carry permit to any qualified applicant – to “may issue,” which would give sheriffs discretion about whom they allow to carry.

The latter method would allow counties such as Cook to forbid residents from carrying concealed firearms, but it would not ban permit holders from other counties from bringing weapons in.

Opinion among Chicago lawmakers is split.

“I still would not support it,” said House Majority Leader Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago. “I don’t like the idea of people going around with concealed weapons. It’s not good public policy.”

Others said they might be amenable to voting for the measure, but only if the bill also included certain gun-control provisions as well.

“There are transportation issues, some of the legislation we tried to pass earlier, that gun owners found overly restrictive,” said Rep. Will Davis, D-Chicago. “If they want to, I think this is an opportunity to open a big discussion about all the issues,”

Earlier in the session, the House killed bills that would have restricted firearm purchases to one handgun per person per month and require that a gun owner report a lost or stolen firearm within 72 hours.

“What I talked to Brandon Phelps about two months ago was that we need to look at the idea of all of the commonsense gun legislation and think about one omnibus bill,” Colvin said.

Could back ‘may issue’

Springfield-area lawmakers said they could back an amendment that would give sheriff’s “may issue” power.

“Sometimes we may have to take smaller steps than we want to,” said Rep. Rich Brauer, R-Petersburg, who supports concealed-carry.

Sangamon County Sheriff Neil Williamson said he also would support giving sheriffs discretionary authority in connection with concealed-carry permits.

“I’m pro-concealed carry and have been since I’ve been sheriff,” Williamson said. “‘May issue’ would give the sheriff a lot broader discretion, because some individuals and communities known to law enforcement that may qualify on paper, but because of something in the person’s background, the sheriff may want to take a second look.”

Another approach might be to allow counties to opt out of the concealed-carry law.

The concept has been tried with other issues. For example, before Illinois banned smoking in indoor public places, lawmakers first allowed local governments to take action.

No opt-out

When it comes to concealed-carry, however, that idea meets almost universal opposition.

“It needs to be uniform,” Davis said. “Allowing counties to opt-out would create logistical challenges for individuals.”

The National Rifle Association also opposes opt-out.

“We don’t think people’s rights should be based on their zip code,” NRA lobbyist Todd Vandermyde said.

The Second Amendment Foundation, a pro-concealed-carry group based in Washington state, sued Illinois on Friday, contending that the state’s ban violates the Second Amendment.

The suit targets the state’s Unlawful Use of Weapons statute, which states that it is illegal to carry a concealed weapon except on one’s own property.

The group said in a news release that the goal of the lawsuit is not to force the state to adopt a concealed-carry program, but to clarify the constitutionality of the existing law.

Andy Brownfield can be reached at 782-3095.

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