Friday, February 22, 2013

Illinois House will focus
on guns next week

By Jamey Dunn

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is urging lawmakers to approve legislation regulating the concealed carry of firearms after a federal court denied her appeal of its ruling.

In December, a panel of judges from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Illinois' ban on carrying guns in public unconstitutional. The decision gave the General Assembly 180 days to pass concealed carry legislation. Madigan asked for the entire court to reconsider the case, but her request was denied today. “Although the 7th Circuit rarely grants rehearing en banc [by all of the judges], it was important to ask the full court to reconsider its opinion. Significantly, in today’s decision, four of the 7th Circuit judges have provided a clear framework to guide the legislature in drafting a new law. With the 180-day deadline still in place, it is critical that the legislature continue to work to enact a law that will protect public safety,” Madigan said in a prepared statement.

Judge David Hamilton wrote in his dissenting opinion that the court's ruling was the first time a federal appeals court has struck down a law barring public carry of a firearms. “In so many public settings, carrying and using firearms present lethal risks to innocent bystanders. Yet when people go about their daily lives in public places, they have no choice about whether to consent to the dangers posed by firearms in public. We can all choose whether to visit homes where firearms are present,” Hamilton wrote in his dissent. “To illustrate the dangers posed by lawful use of firearms in public, consider a deadly confrontation on the streets of New York City in August 2012, when police confronted an armed man who had just shot and killed another man. The police officers were well-trained in both how to shoot and when to shoot and not shoot. The officers fatally shot the gunman, but the officers’ many shots also wounded nine bystanders.”

The denial comes as the House is preparing to debate gun control next week. House Speaker Michael Madigan has called for “Weekly Order of Business” to begin next week focused on gun issues. (House Rule 31, Page 50 line 13) The move is a call for the House to focus on a single topic, and it begins next Tuesday. “It will be a time to consider gun safety issues,” said Madigan spokesman Steve Brown. He said the official designation allows lawmakers and interested parties to prepare. However, it does not change legislative procedure. “The steps you take to pass a bill or amend a bill would be the same.” The House has already held two hearings on the topic of concealed carry and has a hearing on assault weapons scheduled for next Thursday.

Some gun control advocates say they do not plan to fight against carry because they concede that the court ruling means it is coming to the state. Mark Walsh, campaign director of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, said his organization's opposition to carry “has been well-documented over the years.” But he said at a hearing in Springfield this week, “We are now working under a court order to pass legislation regulating some form of concealed carry.” Walsh and others are pushing for restrictions such as a requirement that gun owners report lost or stolen guns, restrictions on where guns can be carried and legislative language that allows law enforcement officials to use discretion when issuing permits for carry. Walsh said he now hopes to “use this court order as an opportunity to save lives.

A representative from Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s office indicated at the hearing that unless lawmakers passed concealed carry legislation, the state’s attorney would continue to prosecute people under the current law, even after the court’s deadline. “The lower federal courts, either the district courts or the courts of appeal, cannot tell the Illinois Supreme Court how to rule or whether or not that law is constitutional. The only court that can resolve that split is the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Paul Castiglione. But Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said at a Chicago hearing today said she acknowledges the court’s ruling. “Of course we will be respectful of the decision made by the 7th Circuit Court.”  Preckwinkle said, however, that she wants Madigan to continue to fight the ruling in court. “I would hope that the attorney general would continue to pursue this matter in the federal courts.” Gov. Pat Quinn also said lawmakers should observe the federal appeals court's ruling and approve concealed carry legislation before the June deadline. “A federal court order is a serious matter. I take it seriously. I think we need to comply with it,” Quinn said.

Harrisburg Democratic Rep. Brandon Phelps, who has sponsored concealed carry bills in recent years, said, “Today was another victory for law-abiding gun owners.” Phelps has said his proposal, House Bill 997, is a compromise that will ensure concealed carry is well-regulated. The legislation requires training for permits and does allow some areas, such as schools, businesses and universities, to bar guns from their premises. The language in the bill does require that the Illinois State Police issue licenses to applicants who are qualified. However, there is a process through which local law enforcement officials could object to applications. “Probably some pro-gun advocates would say we have too many restrictions,” Phelps said.

Phelps said he does not know what to expect next week. But he said that supporters of concealed carry would likely not back legislation that contains other gun control provisions, such as an assault weapons ban or a requirement that gun owners register their firearms. “I just don’t see  how any pro-gun legislator is going to be for something like that because the ruling only specifies concealed carry.”

Brown said the Weekly Order of Business session would focus on multiple “gun safety” issues.

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