Friday, May 31, 2013

Lawmakers pass concealed-carry compromise, send it to governor

By Jamey Dunn 

After months of back and forth on the issue, the Illinois General Assembly approved a bill to regulate the carry of concealed weapons in the state.

“This is an historic day for law-abiding gun owners in this state because they’re going to get to exercise their Second Amendment right,” said Harrisburg Democrat Rep. Brandon Phelps, who sponsored House Bill 183.

In December, the federal 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the state’s ban on carrying firearms in public, which is the last of its kind in the nation, is unconstitutional. The court gave the General Assembly 180 days to pass a law to regulate carry. The court’s opinion said the state could set reasonable restrictions on carry, such as training requirements for licenses and banning guns in certain places. The deadline set by the court falls on June 9.

When a Senate committee voted down the House’s bill early this week, it seemed that the deadline could come and go without legislation. But lawmakers from both chambers reached a last-minute deal, and both the House and the Senate approved Senate Bill 183 on the last day of the regular legislative session. Under Senate Bill 183, concealed-carry license applicants would have to complete 16 hours of training and pay a $150 fee. The license would be good for five years and permit them to carry in all areas of the state.

Along with the carry bill, lawmakers also sent a gun control measure to Gov. Pat Quinn. Under HB 1189, a resident who sell guns in private sale would have to confirm with the Illinois State Police that the buyer’s Firearm Owner's Identification Card is valid. The seller would call the police and provide the buyer's FOID number for verification. The bill also gives sellers the option of paying a federally licensed firearms dealer to run a background check on the buyer. Gun owners would be required to report lost or stolen firearms to local police within 72 hours.

The degree to which local governments could regulate carry was the biggest point of contention throughout concealed-carry negotiations. The plan preferred by many Senate Democrats would have given the Chicago police commissioner veto power over licenses for carrying in the city. The bill the House approved would have eliminated all local gun ordinances. Opponents of the original Senate proposal said it would give a bureaucrat the power to arbitrarily reject applications. Those who objected to the House plan said that it was a broad overreach, and even it’s own sponsor called it “absolute atomic preemption” of home rule powers.

“The city [of Chicago] said that was unacceptable. We listened to the city yesterday,” said Phelps. In a rare move, the city shared the same stance on the bill as the National Rifle Association. Both were neutral on the bill. “This bill strikes a better balance between the rights of gun owners and the unique public safety needs of Chicago and other municipalities than previous proposals,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a prepared statement. “This legislation will allow Chicago to set its own policies on assault weapons, high-capacity ammunition magazines, reporting of lost and stolen guns, and the location of gun shops. It also prohibits carrying loaded guns on public transportation, in our parks and schools, in bars and in government buildings.”

House Bill 183 would leave most local ordinances in place. Chicago’s assault weapons ban would remain. But any local governments that might want to ban assault weapons in the future should act fast. The bill takes that power away from home rule units 10 days after it goes into effect. The measure would waive some local restrictions for carry permit holders. For example, if a home rule government has a high-capacity magazine ban, someone with a carry permit could still carry a gun with a magazine that falls below the ban. The legislation also allows any FOID card owner to transport any gun that is not banned at the state or federal level through any part of the state, regardless of local law. The gun would have to be unloaded and properly stored in a vehicle.

Opponents said that these exemptions go to far. “It’s a reach beyond concealed carry,” said Maywood Democratic Sen. Kimberly Lightford. “Our village ordinances matter, and we need them to stay intact.” The measure bans guns from several places, including parks, schools and public gatherings such as street fairs. Some who voted against the bill in the House said that more places should have been added to the list. “Do you really need a gun at the beach? And where are you going to conceal it at the beach?” asked Chicago Democratic Rep. Kelly Cassidy. She called on lawmakers to spend more time working on a bill. “It’s not soup. It’s close. It’s brothy, but it’s not soup.”

Democratic Sen. Gary Forby of Benton, who also sponsors the bill, acknowledged there are provisions that those on both sides of the issue do not like. But, he said, that is the nature of compromise. “I think that we got a bill everyone can live with.”

SB 183 had some components of the carry proposal that was originally pitched in Senate, and gun control advocates in both chambers said it made them feel a bit more comfortable with the prospect of concealed carry in the state. “It certainly makes me feel a lot better and others a lot better about what we did with concealed carry,” said Rep. Christian Mitchell, a Democrat from Chicago.

Mahomet Republican Sen. Chapin Rose raised doubts about the state police's ability to handle the volume of calls from buyers checking FOID cards. A recent audit of the FOID division of the state police found it was month behind on processing applications. “Somehow, I’m going to trust that we’re going to call this number and all is well?” he asked. “I don’t trust the state police to get this right.”

But sponsor Rep. Michael Zalewski, a Chicago Democrat, said he is confident that the state police can handle the calls. “This is a common sense reform that state police are equipped to do,” he said. “This is something that makes sense for a lot of reasons within the realm of public safety.” Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno said that instead of rejecting the bill, lawmakers should work to make sure the problems with the FOID application system are worked out. “If we have a lack of faith in the state police system, then let’s fix it,” she said. “I don’t think we should be quibbling over details that can and should be solved.”

A ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines failed in the Senate today. House Bill 1346 would have banned the sale of magazines that hold 10 or more bullets. The measure would not have required residents who currently own such magazines to give them up. Sponsor Sen. Dan Kotowski, a Democrat from Park Ridge, said his goal was to regulate gun manufacturers, not impede on the rights of individual gun owners. “The gun industry has essentially been able to dictate policy to the American people for too long, for much too long,” he said. “And no one has said to them by law that you need to be held more accountable for what you create. ... We have to figure out a way to limit the damage these weapons can cause.”

 A Senate committee approved the measure after the parents of victims of the Sandy Hook School shooting in Newton, Conn., gave testimony in favor of the plan. Opponents said the bill would not make the state safer. “If I were to make a list of everything that is effective and not effective ... this would be at the bottom of the list of things that are not effective,” said Dixon Republican Sen. Tim Bivins.

Quinn’s office said he plans to review the carry bill. But the governor did release a statement on the failure of the magazine ban. “I met with the families of Newtown, Conn., as did many lawmakers, and we have seen the devastation that high-capacity ammunition magazines have done to families across our nation. “Today, lawmakers had the opportunity to minimize the chance of this unthinkable violence happening in Illinois. “I am very disappointed that members did not pass commonsense legislation that would have no impact on hunting,” Quinn said in a prepared statement. Quinn called for a high-capacity magazine ban and a ban on assault weapons in his State of the State address. “I will continue to fight for limits on high-capacity ammunition magazines in our state.”

 Last year, Quinn used his amendatory veto power to tack an assault weapons ban onto an unrelated bill regarding ammunition. It is possible he would make a similar move with either of the bills that passed today. The concealed carry legislation passed with enough votes to override a veto.


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