By Lauren N. Johnson
Gun owners in Illinois would be allowed to legally conceal and carry firearms under legislation that would require sheriffs and the Illinois State Police to process and issue licenses.
House Bill 148, sponsored by Rep. Brandon Phelps, a Harrisburg Democrat, would require applicants to have eight hours of firearm training, gun range qualifications and notice of carry zones where individuals would be allowed to bring their firearms. A House committee approved the bill today with bipartisan support.
Illinois would join 48 other states with laws permitting concealed carry of firearms, if the measure is approved on the House floor, by the Senate and signed by the governor.
“The gangbangers are the problem,” said Todd Vandermyde, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association. The fact that Illinois does not allow concealed carry when 49 other states do is "just a slap in the face to the law-abiding citizens in this state that work hard, live the right way, and they just don’t want to feel like they are going to be victims every time they step out the door because the gangs are controlling the streets,” he said.
After negotiations with the law enforcement agencies and advocacy groups throughout the state, proponents of the legislation said it is “fair and equitable” and would benefit law-abiding Illinois citizens who want to protect themselves.
Two downstate sheriffs, Bob Houston of Tazewell County and Jeff Standard of Fulton County, took issue with gun ownership being restricted to those in law enforcement only. “We all want to defend our constitutional rights,” Houston said.
“The right to defend your own life is more important than any of the others. If you don’t have that one, the other ones kind of pale in comparison,” Houston said. Standard said a 20- to 30-minute emergency response time is common in his county, and he feels that residents should be able to protect themselves if the police are not present.
Opponents of the measure said qualifications for applications were loosely defined, fail to mention background checks of applicants with mental health illnesses and would decriminalize incidents when firearm permit holders trespass into areas that ban concealed carry. Samantha Fields, an assistant to Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, said, “There is no evidence that proves that a concealed-carry state is a safer state.” If the legislature approves the legislation and Gov. Pat Quinn signs it, Chicago could go from having a ban on handguns, which was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court last June, to allowing concealed carry within less than a year.