Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Quinn nixes concealed carry as it moves in the House

By Lauren N. Johnson

A House committee voted today in favor of a proposal that would allow Illinois residents to carry loaded firearms, but Gov. Pat Quinn vowed to veto the measure if it ends up on his desk.

House Bill 148, sponsored by Rep. Brandon Phelps, a Harrisburg Democrat, would permit citizens to carry concealed, loaded handguns in public places, such as shopping malls, restaurants, parks and rest stops. The bill would bar carrying a gun in most government buildings, including schools. “It’s called concealed carry, but what is concealed and hidden from the public is a loaded gun,” said Quinn, who campaigned against concealed carry of firearms during his run for governor last November.

The bill would require applicants for a concealed carry permit to pay a $100 application fee, have eight hours of classroom firearm training, including gun range training administered by the Illinois Law Enforcement Training Standards Board, and receive notice from the state about carry zones where individuals would be allowed to bring firearms.

Hiram Grau, director of the Illinois State Police, said that issuing concealed carry permits would require additional manpower from the department. “The demands of this proposed concealed law are going to put a huge burden on our antiquated FOID system. The applications are going to be coming in hot and heavy, and we’re just not prepared for that.”

Colleen Daley, executive director of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, said her group commissioned a statewide survey in March done by The Mellman Group, a Washington D.C.-based research firm, that found that 65 percent of Illinois registered voters opposed the idea of an individual carrying a concealed loaded handgun. “Concealed carry does not stop crime,” said Daley.

Quinn agreed, “To allow concealed, loaded handguns in the possession of private citizens in public places will not enhance public safety in Illinois; it will not reduce violence. Indeed, it will increase violence.”

Illinois is one of only two states without a law permitting the concealed carry of firearms. “I mean 48 other states can’t be wrong, and that’s not the reason we’re trying to pass this. We just think that law-abiding gun owners ought to have the right, their constitutional right, to do this, and we have two court cases on our side,” Phelps said .

Quinn said he received letters from presidents of the state’s public universities in strong opposition to the bill. The proposal comes after the deaths of five students at Northern Illinois University in 2008, where a gunman used a legally purchased a firearm.

After much opposition from universities, Phelps removed college campuses from the legal carry zones listed in his bill. “We’ve worked with every group that wants to work with us,” Phelps said. “The only group that wouldn’t meet with us was the city of Chicago because they are always going to be against this.”

Steve Peterson, deputy superintendent for the Chicago Police Department, said allowing individuals to carry guns could turn what would have previously been a vocal altercation or a fistfight into a deadly exchange. “Now, when the aggression becomes more and one or two of those persons has a concealed carry permit, all that can do is lead is too more violence on the street,” Peterson said.

He added, “Then when a police officer arrives and he sees two citizens confronting each other with weapons, he or she has to make a split decision.” However, Phelps said his bill requires a person to declare that they have a weapon and show their gun license when confronted by an officer.

Phelps plans to call the bill for a floor vote later this week. The deadline for the House to vote on the proposal was extended until Friday. Phelps said he does not have enough votes to override a veto from Quinn, but he said support for the legislation continues to grow. “We haven’t gotten anything. This is one thing that we ask,” Phelps said, suggesting that passage of concealed carry might soothe some downstate voters who felt they lost the battle over recent bills that abolished the death penalty and legalized civil unions in the state.

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