Originally Posted Online: Feb. 21, 2009, 9:01 pm
Last Updated: Feb. 23, 2009, 6:46 am
Conceal-carry bill awaits action in Illinois House
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By Scott Reeder, email@example.com
SPRINGFIELD -- Will Illinois residents strap on firearms cowboy style, or carry them in their pockets or under their jackets?
That's how the latest debate over guns is being framed in Springfield.
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court held for the first time that the Constitution provides an individual right to bear arms, such as for self-defense, rather than a right that applies only to a state militia.
"The court said there is a right to bear arms, now the question is how will we bear those arms? In a holster? Or as a concealed weapon?" asked Todd Vandermyde, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, which supports the concealed carry measure.
Every state, except Illinois and Wisconsin, has provisions in their laws that allow civilians to carry concealed weapons.
"It's legal in 48 states,'' said Kankakee gun owner Raymond Odle. "The Constitution says we have a right to bear arms. It's like we are second-class citizens here in Illinois."
Openly carrying firearms also is restricted mainly to rural areas for hunting and target shooting, said former Illinois Department of Natural Resources director Joel Brunsvold.
Illinois law enforcement is divided on the issue of allowing concealed weapons. The Illinois Sheriffs' Association has endorsed the legislation and the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police has rejected it.
"There is considerable concern about officer safety, whether firearms would be used safely in densely populated areas and whether people carrying them would be adequately trained," said Stacey Puckett, executive director of the chiefs association.
Puckett said when members of her association were polled, 60 percent of those responding opposed the legislation. "The further north you go in the state, the stronger the opposition," she said.
"In southern Illinois, guns are viewed differently than in Chicago," Brunsvold said. "In rural Illinois it's not uncommon for people to shoot skeet in their backyard. But if someone were seen carrying a rifle over their shoulder in downtown Chicago it would cause a panic. Folks in Chicago associate guns with crime and downstate they associate them with recreation."
State Rep. Shane Cultra, R-Onarga, favors the conceal carry legislation, saying it'is a matter of safety in rural Illinois where police response times are longer and folks live in more isolated locations.
"In all the time I was a prosecutor, I never once prosecuted a gangbanger who had a (Firearms Owners Identification) card," said state Rep. Careen Gordon, D-Morris. "Law-abiding people are the ones who will apply for conceal carry permits -- not criminals."
Under House Bill 245 to receive a conceal-carry permit an applicant would have to:
- Be at least 21 years old;
- Be a resident of Illinois for the past six months and a permanent U.S. resident;
- Never have been convicted of a felony.
- Not demonstrate a lack of mental capacity according to Illinois State Police records.
- Not have a substance abuse problem.
Those seeking a concealed carry permit would also have to complete firearms and deadly-use-of-force training. Concealed guns would not be allowed inside police stations, prisons, government offices, courthouses, bars, airports, schools, riverboats, amusement parks, arenas, stadiums and churches.
A House committee approved the bill on Thursday and the legislation is now pending before the full House. State Rep. Pat Verschoore, D-Milan, is chief co-sponsor of the bill, which was introduced by Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion.