Gun bill compromise ‘close’

May 29, 2013 at 08:45 PM

A concealed-carry compromise between the Illinois House and Senate is closing in with just days left in the scheduled spring session and a court-ordered June 9 deadline to craft legislation looming over lawmakers’ heads.

The Senate’s top Democrat said Wednesday both sides of the debate have made “a lot of progress” as talks between both houses advance in an attempt to reach some middle ground.

“We’d like to pass a bill,” Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said. “If the two sides were so far apart, there’d be nothing to talk about (and) I’d say this doesn’t look good. But this looks very good.”

Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, sponsor of the Senate’s gun bill, echoed Cullerton, saying he believes this is the closest the two sides have ever been on controversial gun issues.

But a leading pro-gun lawmaker and sponsor of a more permissive House bill, Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, said both chambers are still miles apart over how to approach a “pre-emption” provision pro-gun advocates are pushing that would wipe out all local gun ordinances — even those unrelated to concealed carry.

A Democratic-controlled Senate panel on Tuesday rejected Phelps’ bill that would erase such laws and then approved its own alternate, but similar, version that keeps intact local gun ordinances, including Chicago’s assault-weapons ban.

Meetings among key lawmakers will continue until the Senate can craft a bill they can send to the House, said Raoul, who couldn’t say when he would call the bill for a vote.

“It isn’t about getting a bill passed. It’s isn’t about what I want,” Raoul said. “It’s about finding some agreement.”

The Senate bill’s chances of passage in the House are uncertain, however, with pro-gun advocates gambling that it will not survive a vote there if it lacks absolute pre-emption.

“Their legislation as is will not pass here in the House, and I think they know that,” Phelps said. “I don’t know if there’s going to be (middle ground) in the House. We passed something that we could live with.”

Last week, Phelps’ bill with absolute pre-emption passed the House with 85 votes, he said, adding pre-emption is something pro-gun advocates are not willing to give up.

“You already voted something (like) absolute pre-emption for the whole state; it’s hard to take back something on that because we’d feel like we’d be going backwards,” he said.

Cullerton said he believes both houses can develop core compromises so that lawmakers can enact one uniform law that doesn’t infringe on municipalities’ ability for local control on other gun matters.

But allowing for local control would cause too much of a burden for law-abiding gun owners while traveling city to city, Phelps argued. Nearly half of the 200-plus home-rule municipalities in the state have local gun ordinances unique to their communities.

Senate Democrats also are wary of a provision being pushed by pro-gun advocates that would allow people to bring their guns into certain restaurants and bars, depending on how much of their sales come from alcohol.

Phelps said pro-gun supporters are unlikely to budge on that either, adding that people should be able to defend themselves even in those environments.
In both bills, business owners could still post signs prohibiting weapons if they wish, Phelps said.

Unlike some bordering states’ concealed-carry laws, Phelps’ bill wouldn’t require individuals to refrain from drinking entirely but still would impose penalties for carrying a weapon while intoxicated.

Raoul, who wants guns banned from any establishment that sells alcohol for consumption and tougher penalties for carrying under the influence, said carrying a deadly weapon while intoxicated should be treated the same as driving under the influence.

In trying to reach some middle ground, Raoul has already tossed out two of his bill’s more contentious provisions, one that would have allowed police to object to a permit applicant on the basis of “moral character” and a New York-style provision that would have required the applicant to prove “proper cause” to carry a weapon.

At the same time, Phelps said, he’s given on a lot of issues too by upping training requirements to 16 hours (the most in the nation), increasing penalties, strengthening mental health reporting laws, and banning guns from public transit.

Lawmakers have until June 9 to craft legislation with restrictions due to a federal appellate court’s decision in December that orders Illinois to lift its last-in-the-nation ban on concealed carry.

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