SPRINGFIELD — Over objections of Gov. Pat Quinn and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the House approved a concealed weapons bill today that is aimed at ending Illinois’ status as the last state in the nation without a law to allow its citizens to carry guns in public.
But the gun bill backed by House Speaker Michael Madigan goes to a Senate where President John Cullerton has denounced the proposal because it would override local gun laws like Chicago’s assault weapons ban.
Cullerton’s stance tempered the House victory, but sponsoring Rep. Brandon Phelps contended it is critical to move forward because Illinois faces next Friday’s deadline for the spring session’s adjournment and a court order that gives the state June 9 to fashion a law. A federal appeals court struck down the state’s ban on concealed carry.
“After years of debating this issue,” said Phelps, the state legislature’s leading gun rights advocate, “it is incredibly difficult if not darn near impossible to come to a middle ground on this issue. Every legislator on this floor has a different opinion when it comes to concealed-carry policy.
“Even among us gun-rights legislators and even among the gun-control legislators, our ideals of the perfect concealed-carry legislation is not identical,” Phelps said. “There is not a bill that we could possibly draw up in which every single legislator on this floor would be perfectly happy with. We live in Illinois. We never thought this day would come.”
The House passed the bill 85-30, with one lawmaker voting present.
“This bill is a massive overreach. It is dangerous,” said Rep. Christian Mitchell, D-Chicago, who lashed out at the often verbose NRA for taking no position on the legislation. “The idea somehow that the NRA is neutral on this is like saying that there’s a fox neutral on an appropriation to defund hen house security.”
The bill is designed to create a law that spells out who can carry concealed weapons in Illinois and where they can carry them, but the legislation’s removal of home-rule powers also wiped out local firearms laws—giving more fuel to the opposition of Quinn, Cullerton and Emanuel.
Chicago Democratic Rep. Ann Williams said the bill would wipe off the books local assault weapon bans and taxes on gun purchases, Williams called for the defeat of the Phelps bill and for support of a stricter, New York-styled law to “reflect the realities” of differences between rural areas and urban areas like Chicago.
A longtime opponent of concealed weapons, Madigan rose on the House floor and carefully went over the appeals court ruling. He pointed out requirements of reporting mental health problems represented a “dramatic improvement” from current law. And he said the Emanuel administration got a prohibition of carrying guns at everything site where it wanted concealed weapons banned.
Madigan noted that anti-gun lawmakers got only 31 of 60 votes need for a strict, New York-styled bill called in the House in April. But he said gun rights lawmakers– whose legislation overrode home-rule and required 71 votes ended up with 64– even significantly after the speaker said he worked against the bill.
Madigan said gun rights advocates had estimated they had as many as 75 votes at the “high-water mark” before the speaker worked against that version of the bill.
“Those vote counts are very telling,” Madigan said. “They tell the reason why I stand before you today, changing the position which I’ve advocated for well over 20 years. But that’s what happens in a democracy.”
Over time, he said, it is expected in a democracy that “there will be changes in thinking” by people in legislatures consistent with the thoughts of constituencies.
Quinn quickly issued a statement vowing to block passage in the Senate. “This legislation is wrong for Illinois,” he said.
“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,” the statement read.
After lawmakers had gone home for the day, Emanuel’s office issued a statement opposing Madigan’s plan, saying the mayor is “committed to working with the leaders” on legislation to combat gun crimes and keep illegal guns off the street.
Cullerton’s attack on what he sees as a pro-gun tilt in the House bill escalated the drama between two chambers already at a standoff over how to fix a nearly $100 billion pension debt with only a week left in the spring session.
Unlike the Senate bill, the Phelps legislaton would be no opportunity for communities to add specific locations where guns would be banned based on local sensitivities.
The Senate version would have set up a two-tiered system with one permit to carry outside Chicago and the Chicago Police Department issuing carrying privileges within the city. The House bill creates one statewide permit as long as qualifications are met.
Overriding home-rule authority meant the bill would require a three-fifths majority of 71 House votes to pass.
Under the Senate bill, a person had to show proper reason to carry a gun. That restriction is not in the House bill.
The House version would put the Illinois State Police in charge of conducting background checks that include reviewing state and federal databases and doing additional interviews if necessary. Any law enforcement agency, including federal authorities, could object to an applicant getting a concealed carry permit.
But the measure also would let citizens who are denied applications appeal that decision to a new review board dominated by people with law enforcement experience, such as former judges or FBI agents. The Senate version had such appeals going to the same state police agency that denied them.
But Rep. Scott Drury, D-Highland Park, contended the penalties are weak, and he said law enforcement authorities should have a chance to appeal a review board decision just as citizens do.
“This bill is not ready,” Drury said.
Both bills set out a long list of places people could not carry guns. Among them: CTA buses and trains, public parks, stadiums, zoos, casinos and government buildings.
The two bills differ, however, when it comes to alcohol. The House version would ban guns in bars where more than 50 percent of sales come from liquor. The Senate bill has a more restrictive standard.
To qualify for a concealed carry permit, a person must be 21 and cannot have been convicted for a crime in which they served at least one year in prison. A person cannot be addicted to drugs or alcohol, or adjudicated as a mentally disabled person.
Permits could not go to a person who has been convicted of a serious crime or been in a mental health facility within the last five years. A mental health professional would have to certify that a person is not a clear and present danger to himself or others.
The legislation would require 16 hours of training, including shooting exercises. The cost of a concealed weapons permit would be $150 for five years, with $120 going to the state police, $20 for a mental health reporting fund and $10 to the state crime lab fund to help undo backlogs.