SPRINGFIELD — In Illinois, it's been more about guns than the state's gaping pension debt this winter.|
And that's not about to change, because the state's top Democrat has set the agenda for at least one major overhaul of the state's gun laws.
House Speaker Mike Madigan on Thursday set two public hearings for later this month to focus on concealed-carry legislation.
"In light of events in recent months in Illinois and in other parts of the country, it's appropriate and necessary that we give a full vetting to proposed state legislation on this matter," Madigan said.
Illinois is the only state in the nation that does not allow people to carry a weapon in some fashion and with some regulations.
Madigan said the hearings, one in Chicago and the other at the state Capitol, will give advocates, opponents and police officers a chance "to offer their views and argue their cases to legislators and the people of Illinois."
But the case for concealed carry already may be closed.In December, a federal appeals court struck down Illinois' law that stops people from carrying a weapon.
Todd Vandermyde, a lobbyist for the Illinois State Rifle Association, said that ruling closed the door on many of the "negotiations" that surrounded concealed carry legislation in the past.
"There are certain things that are not negotiable in the process," Vandermyde said last week at a public hearing.
Concealed carry "will be a 'shall issue' permit; there will be no discretion by some bureaucrat as to whether you get to exercise your right," he said.
"It will be a statewide permit, there will be no carve-out for Chicago. There will be no carve-out for Cook County," Vandermyde said.
State Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, who has authored several concealed-carry laws during his time in Springfield, said the federal court ruling goes even further.
"The clock is still ticking. June 10 is the deadline," he said. "We filed a bill, a lot of people didn't think we were going to because we don't have to. Constitutional carry will set in if we don't do something."
Phelps' plan would require gun owners to be trained, pass a background check and obtain a permit. Phelps said he is fine with some limits on where people could take their weapon, including schools, libraries, taverns, amusement parks, airports, government buildings or anyplace prohibited by federal law.
So, if lawmakers must act to stop everyone from being able to carry a gun, but won't be able to place broad limits on just who can carry a gun, what can they do?
State Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, will have to figure that out. Hewill head the Illinois Senate's push to legislate who can carry a weapon in Illinois.
"The negotiations I lead will respect firearm owners' constitutional protections as interpreted by the Supreme Court and lower courts, and it will acknowledge the fact that there are many law-abiding Illinois gun owners who legitimately wish to use guns for sport and self-protection," Raoul said in a statement on Thursday.
"At the same time, we will also acknowledge the alarming prevalence of gun violence and the need to keep guns out of the hands of those most likely to use them for harm."
On Wednesday, Raoul said the focus on guns should not just be on concealed carry or even an assault weapons ban.
"I understand there was a great tragedy that happened at Newtown (Conn.), and Aurora (Colo.), and Columbine (High School in Colorado)," Raoul said. "But on a day-to-day basis, in my neighborhood, in my district, it's these guns being transferred through straw purchases to gang-bangers and people we know will do harm with them."
Raoul said he wants to address that problem as well.
The first House hearing is set from Feb. 19 in Springfield, the second on Feb. 22 in Chicago.
The Senate has not set any hearing dates yet.
Contact Benjamin Yount at Ben@IllinoisWatchdog.org
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