Thursday, May 23, 2013

NRA silence 'speaks volumes'
to those who oppose new
concealed-carry legislation

By Jamey Dunn

Concealed-carry legislation is expected to pass in the Illinois House on Friday without the support of the National Rifle Association, but opponents say there is a lot in the bill for pro-gun groups to like.

A House committee approved Senate Bill 2193 on a vote of 13 in favor and three opposed. Under the proposal, residents who are eligible to own a gun and are age 21 or older could apply for a carry license. The license would cost $150, and applicants would have to complete 18 hours of training, including live-fire range training. Law enforcement officials at any level could object to applications based on “reasonable suspicion that the applicant is a danger to himself or herself or others, or a threat to public safety.” A panel appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate would rule on the objections. House Speaker Michael Madigan predicted that the bill would pass in the House. A vote is expected tomorrow.

The proposal would wipe out local gun laws, including requirements to report lost or stolen guns and Chicago’s ban on assault weapons. That provision makes gun control advocates bristle. They have been pushing to add a component addressing lost or stolen guns, but the sponsor, Democratic Rep. Brandon Phelps, and others have said that they did not want to address issues other than concealed carry with the bill. Colleen Daley, executive director Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, said that the city’s assault weapons ban would not interfere with the carry law. “If it’s just carry, then make it just carry.”

But Phelps said that the same gun law should apply everywhere in the state. “We just think [it will make] law-abiding gun owners criminals if you don’t have one uniform law. That way, everybody understands what to expect. Having 220 home rule municipalities -- and 109 of them already have some form of firearm ordinances -- we just think that’s ridiculous.” Those with reservations about the bill say that even though the NRA is neutral, they can see the group’s influence in the proposal. They note that the group rarely, if ever, sits quietly and allows legislation it does not favor to pass. No one representing the NRA or the Illinois Rifle Association testified during the committee hearing today. Before the hearing, the usually talkative NRA lobbyist Todd Vandermyde declined to comment on the bill.

“That speaks volumes to me,” Daley said. Ronald Homes, spokesperson for Senate President John Cullerton, also noted the association’s silence. “This is still the template that the NRA wanted to get done. ... The NRA is often loud about bills that they don’t like.” SB 2193 would not allow Chicago or Cook County to add any additional restrictions to concealed carry, something Cullerton and many in his caucus support. “The Senate president has been a strong advocate for tough gun laws in the past, and this bill kind of is the opposite of things that he advocated for,” Holmes said.

Chicago Democratic Sen. Kwame Raoul presented a more restrictive carry bill in the Senate that would require approval from the superintendent of Chicago police for residents seeking to carry in Chicago. But Raoul was not able to find the support needed to pass the bill in the Senate. Holmes said that this new version of concealed carry also could be met with opposition. “I think the bill has a couple things in it that will make it less appealing to members in our caucus.” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other prominent Chicago-area officials have not weighed in on SB 2193. Holmes said that Cullerton and Emanuel planned to discuss the bill during a scheduled phone call today.

Phelps acknowledged that the lack of NRA support could help put more votes on the bill. But he says he never talked to any NRA representatives about taking a stance for political reasons. “You saw what happened today The NRA is just not going to support this bill. ... So if it was their fingerprints, I think that they’d be happy because they have a lot of members that are involved in this.”

Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, said there are things that his group does not like about the bill. “We feel that the fees are too high and the training is too long.” The steep license fee and cost of training could make the constitutional right of carry inaccessible for some.  But he says there are components of the proposal that he supports. “It also has some good things in the bill. It’s got [home rule powers] preemption in the bill, which is very very important.”

Daley said she sees some positives in the legislation, too. “We do see the value of some of the pieces in the bill.” She said that all predictions point to the House approving SB 2193 on Friday. But she says that her organizations and other gun control advocates are continuing to push for a bill that recognizes Chicago’s differences and allows for more restrictions there. “We’ve activated our network to get them to call their legislators.”

Pearson said his group is not trying to sway House members. “We’re not saying it’s OK to vote for the bill; we’re not saying it’s not OK. We’re saying we’re neutral.”
He added, “I’m sure the representatives will be more than able to make up their minds.”

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