Friday, May 24, 2013

House approves concealed-carry gun bill, but Senate may tweak it

By Jamey Dunn

State Sen. Kwame Raoul says he plans to craft a “compromise” bill similar to the concealed-carry legislation approved by the House today.

The Illinois House passed Senate Bill 2193 on a vote of 85 in favor and 30 opposed. Under the proposal, Illinois residents would be able to carry loaded handguns in public if they meet the licensing requirements prescribed by the bill, complete 18 hours of training and pay a fee of $150. The Illinois State Police would issue concealed-carry licenses, which would be good for five years.

A federal court ordered Illinois lawmakers to approve legislation regulating concealed carry by early June. House Speaker Michael Madigan said that ruling was a driving force behind today’s vote, but he said so were changing attitudes about concealed carry. He noted that a bill backed by gun control advocates received only 31 of the 60 “yes” votes it would have needed to pass in the House last month. A bill supported by gun rights activists was only defeated after Madigan lobbied against it. “That language, which required 71 votes, got 64. It got 64 after I had worked against the bill and where the proponent of the language felt that at a high water point, they had 75 votes,” he said on the House floor today. “Those vote counts are very telling. They tell the reason why I stand before you today changing a position which I’ve advocated for well over 20 years. But that’s what happens in a democracy.” He said that as public sentiment changes, so do lawmakers’ votes. “In a democracy, it’s not only OK to do that, it’s expected that there would be changes in thinking by people in legislatures consistent with how the people of the country feel.”

The measure approved today would wipe out all existing local gun laws, including requirements to report lost or stolen guns and Chicago’s ban on assault weapons. Senate President John Cullerton called this preemption of the powers of home rule units of government an “overreach” by the National Rifle Association. The NRA has not taken a position on the bill. However, Raoul, who sponsored a more restrictive plan in the Senate, says he doesn’t buy that. “You’ve never known the NRA to be quiet on a gun bill. I think that’s reflective of the NRA being in favor of this bill. There’s not question the NRA is in favor of this bill. I don’t think anybody is fooled by that.” A representative of the Illinois State Rifle Association told Illinois Issues yesterday that the group opposes the fee and the number of training hours required, but it remains neutral on the overall bill.

Supporters of SB 2193 say they want uniform laws throughout the state so that gun owners do not commit crimes just because they are unaware of a local ordinance. “I’m a home rule guy. I live in a home rule county. I live in a home rule municipality. I represent home rule municipalities,” said Rep. David Harris, a Republican from Arlington Heights. But Harris told a story about his wife getting a ticket for talking on her cell phone while driving in a city that bans it because she did not know it was illegal there. He said that if that happened under a carry law, she would potentially face criminal charges. “It’s rare that I stand up and support preemption. However, I think this is one time where preemption makes sense.”

 Harrisburg Democratic Rep. Brandon Phelps, who sponsored the bill, said, “No matter where you live, no matter what ZIP code you come from, you should have equal rights.” Raoul said that his compromise bill would preempt local government on the issue of concealed carry, so that the law is uniform across the state. But he said there is no reason to roll back local gun regulations that are not related to carry. “The 7th circuit [court] didn’t say pass a law that preempts home rule to do anything with regards to guns,” he said. “Any of the ordinances that exist right now, except for those that have to deal with concealed carry, we’d leave those in place.”

Raoul, a Chicago Democrat, said many components of Phelps’ plan would make it into his own legislation. Under SB 2193, any law enforcement official could object to applications for carry licenses. Objections and the documentation to back them up would come before a board that would be appointed by the governor and approved by the Senate. The requirements for serving on that board would be high. The bill calls for federal judges, department of justice attorneys, federal law enforcement agents, doctors and clinical psychologists as potential candidates for saving on the panel. Applicants for carry licenses who were flagged by a law enforcement objection would also be able to submit information to the board, which would make the final ruling on the permit. Raoul’s previous bill would have given Chicago’s police commission veto power over applications from people who want to carry in the city, but he said he is comfortable with including Phelps’ review board instead of his Chicago-specific idea. Raoul said he also plans to call for banning concealed carry anywhere alcohol is served. Phelps’ bill only bans guns in establishments where alcohol sales make up half of the take.

Gov. Pat Quinn issued a scathing statement after the House vote today. “This legislation is wrong for Illinois. It was wrong yesterday in committee, it’s wrong today and it’s wrong for the future of public safety in our state. The principle of home rule is an important one. As written, this legislation is a massive overreach that would repeal critical gun safety ordinances in Chicago, Cook County, and across Illinois. We need strong gun safety laws that protect the people of our state. Instead, this measure puts public safety at risk. I will not support this bill, and I will work with members of the Illinois Senate to stop it in its tracks," he said. The city of Chicago also opposes the bill.

But Phelps said he is concerned that if the state misses the deadline set by the courts, then carry would be allowed without statewide restrictions, and the result would be chaotic. “We have a court ruling to deal with, so I would find it appalling [if] the governor and the powers that be want to go off the cliff because there’s way too much uncertainty in that. So why would you want to put the people in the state of Illinois in jeopardy by going off the cliff?” He asked during floor debate of his bill.

Cullerton said he might call Phelps’ legislation for a vote. However, he said that decision would be made after Senate Democrats caucus on the issue when they return to Springfield for session on Monday. “Maybe our caucus doesn’t want to go forward with it. Maybe we’ll have a caucus, and we’ll see that there’s no support and go a head with an alternative,” Cullerton said.

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