Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Concealed-carry bill introduced in the House

 By Jamey Dunn

Rep. Brandon Phelps introduced a concealed-carry bill today and says he hopes to pass legislation before a court-imposed deadline requires the state to allow residents to carry firearms in public.

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in December ruled the state’s ban on concealed-carry unconstitutional and gave the General Assembly 180 days to pass carry legislation. The court’s opinion said lawmakers have the right to put restrictions on carry, such as requiring training for a license and limiting the places that guns are allowed. The decision came from a panel of three judges, but Attorney General Lisa Madigan has asked the full court, 10 judges, to reconsider the case. So far, however, the 180-day deadline continues to stand. Phelps and others believe that if legislators do not get something passed by that deadline, there will be no restrictions on carrying firearms in the state. “Here’s the deal: The clock is still ticking,” Phelps said. “If I was an anti-gun group, I would want to hurry up and get something passed.”

Phelps, who has sponsored several versions of a concealed-carry bill throughout the years, said he introduced a bill this session because he wants to negotiate in good faith. “We filed a bill to show people that we do mean what we say about working on this issue.” Phelps, a Harrisburg Democrat, said his new legislation, House Bill 997, is similar to House Bill 48, which failed to get the needed support to pass in the House in the spring of 2011. “Now’s not the time to reinvent the wheel,” he said.

Under the new proposal, applicants must be 21 years old and hold a Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) card. They would be required to undergo four hours of training on topics including: “basic principles of marksmanship, care and cleaning of handguns and laws relating to the justifiable use of force.” They would also have to pass a live fire exercise with a certified instructor. A database of applicant information would be accessible to law enforcement officials. Statistical information about licenses issued by demographics, such as race, age gender or geographic location, would be available to the public. However, information about specific applicants would be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.

If an applicant met all the requirements in the bill, the legislation requires that the Illinois State Police issue a license within 30 days of receiving his or her application. The state police would be able to consider objections from local law enforcement when processing applications. Those applicants who were granted licenses would be able to carry a loaded or unloaded handgun either concealed or openly in public and while in a vehicle. The measure prohibits guns in certain areas, such as state and federal buildings, and bars firearms at college campuses and schools. Some of those places, such as schools and campuses, could opt to allow concealed-carry if approved by school authorities. Business owners could choose not to allow guns inside their establishments.

The bill would preempt home rule, so it would apply across the state, including in Chicago. The proposal would bar home rule units of government from limiting the number of guns a concealed-carry permit owner could have or requiring that they register the guns they own.

Meanwhile, a group of freshman lawmakers joined Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon today to announce a new working group that will focus on guns. “Issues about firearms often have regional rather than partisan splits, and your perspective as to where you come from in the state often has an influence on how you look at these issues, so that’s one of the reasons that I wanted to convene this group of folks from across the state to be able to learn what those regional perspectives are, to be able to be fully informed,” Simon said at a Chicago news conference.

Simon said the group plans to meet with mental health professionals, law enforcement officials, teachers, school administrators, victims of gun violence, gun rights activists and gun control supporters. Members of the group will also learn how to use a firearm at the Sparta World Shooting Complex and get a lesson on gun safety from the state police. She said the panel does not plan to produce legislation but to help create an informed dialogue on the issue. She said the group would especially focus on the subject of concealed carry. “It’s something that this group will likely have to vote on, and I think as a group we’ve decided that we want to contribute to a fully informed conversation on this issue. This is an issue where people often get driven into one side or another, and we miss some opportunity where we all have common interest,” Simon said. “We’re not targeting putting out a report. We’re not targeting putting out a bill. We’re targeting making the legislative process an effective one. We’re targeting making sure that people from different perspectives understand those other perspectives.”

Lawmakers from throughout the state have joined the diverse group. The panel includes a former federal prosecutor, former school board members, a veteran of the Iraq War, a former Illinois Department of Corrections employee, a conservationist and a mayor. Orland Hills Democrat Rep. Michael Hastings, who served in the United States Army and is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, said he has a FOID card and is a gun owner. “I know the detrimental effects that weapons can have when used improperly, and I want to ensure that the legislation that we pass provides for guidelines and rules for gun owners that provide for safe and effective use of firearms if and when conceal and carry is passed.”

Hillside Democratic Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, who earlier this week stepped down as school board president for Proviso Township High School District 209, said he opposed concealed carry during his campaign for the General Assembly. “Being from Cook County, this is a very serious issue for us. The city of Chicago had over 500 murders last year. So I’m here willing to listen, but I’m also here willing to offer some ideas on how we can address some serious statistics that we are dealing with in the city of Chicago.”

Simon said she is targeting new lawmakers in part because they have yet to act on any legislation related to gun control. “I think you’re the perfect group to be working on this. None of you have cast a vote in the General Assembly on any kind of gun issue, and it’s a great opportunity to do that bipartisan work and to really be leaders.”

Phelps said he is interested to hear what Simon’s group has to offer on concealed carry, but he also said they should listen to lawmakers like him who have been trying to reach a compromise on the topic for years. “I just think they would want to hear from people like us who have been working on this bill for a long, long time,” he said. “We’ve had our own working groups for a long time. And we’ve got one now, but it’s not hers.”

For more on concealed carry, See Illinois Issues March 2012. 

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