Wednesday, May 22, 2013

New carry bill expected to pass the House without NRA support

By Jamey Dunn

The sponsor of a new bill to regulate the concealed carry of firearms in the state says he is confident that the measure will pass in the House.

Rep. Brandon Phelps, a Harrisburg Democrat, introduced Senate Bill 2193 this afternoon.  After polling other lawmakers, he said he thinks the bill could receive as many as 80 votes in favor. The legislation would require 71 votes to pass because it will supersede the powers of home rule governments, such as Chicago and Springfield. House Speaker Michael Madigan publicly backed the bill today and predicted its passage in the House.

A federal court gave Illinois until early June to craft concealed carry legislation. Phelps and others believe that if there is no law after that deadline, Illinois will be a carry free-for-all. Phelps described such a scenario as “mayhem.” “I don’t want to go off the cliff. A lot of people that are pro-gun around this state, they think it would be best to go off the cliff. I just don’t because there’s too much uncertainty.” He said making sure that those with carry permits are qualified is in the best interest of carry supporters because one bad actor could spoil things for everyone. “It just takes that one person to go out and shoot themselves or shoot somebody accidentally and just lock this down for years to come,” he said. “Let’s get some certainty with a bill we can pass.”

Local officials throughout the state are considering passing restrictions if the General Assembly fails to approve a bill by the deadline, but the National Rifle Association has vowed to challenge all local ordinances in court.

Under the bill, applicants for a concealed carry license would have to be 21 or older and eligible for a Firearms Owner Identification Card (FOID). They would have to complete 18 hours of training, including passing a live fire range test and pay $150 licensing fee. The amount of training has doubled since Phelps’s previous bill, which failed in the House last month. Most of the fee would go toward implementing the new licensing system. However, $20 would go toward fixing the state’s seriously flawed mental health records reporting system, and $10 would go to state crime labs. A recent audit of the FOID system, which is administered by the Illinois State Police, found that the FOID division was not getting the mental health records from counties that it needed for screening FOID applicants and cardholders. Under SB 2193, the state police would also administer carry permits.

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 a federal judge, department of justice attorneys, federal law enforcement agents, doctors and clinical psychologists as members. Applicants would also be able to submit information to the board, which would make the final ruling on the permit. The proposal would ban guns in many places, including schools, colleges, government buildings, health care facilities, parks and bars. It would also ban them from public events that require a permit from local government, such as street festivals. The legislation bans the carry of guns on public transit. But Phelps said he intends to make a change that would allow for carry on transit, as long is the weapon is stowed in a bag and unloaded.

Phelps, who has worked with the NRA on all the carry bills he has presented to date, says he does not have the organization's support on this one. He said he thinks the association will take no position on the bill. An NRA spokesperson could not be reached for comment. “I don’t know if anybody is happy right now, to be honest with you. My main thing is to get something done,” Phelps said. “Do you get everything you want in this process when it’s two weeks to go? No. But you know what? I think this is a good concealed carry bill.”

Phelps conceded that the lack of NRA approval might help the plan’s chance for passage in the Senate, where many Democrats support a much more restrictive bill. Phelps' legislation appears to try to skate a thin line of avoiding excessively angering the NRA, thus pushing them to lobby against the bill, while also not giving them a reason to jump for joy, which might scare Senate votes off the plan. But the proposal does not allow Chicago or Cook County to be any more restrictive on licensing than the rest of the state, which some in the Senate may find tough to swallow.

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