By Jamey Dunn
A federal court ordered the Illinois legislature to craft a law allowing the concealed carry of guns in the state.
Today’s ruling from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals said that Illinois failed to “justify the most restrictive gun law of any of the 50 states.” Illinois is the only state that does not allow for concealed carry of weapons by residents. However, as the ruling notes, some states, such as New York, have concealed carry laws that strictly regulate the granting of permits and places where guns are allowed. “Illinois has lots of options for protecting its people from being shot without having to eliminate all possibility of armed self-defense in public,” said the opinion. “There is no suggestion that some unique characteristic of criminal activity in Illinois justifies the state’s taking a different approach from the other 49 states. If the Illinois approach were demonstrably superior, one would expect at least one or two other states to have emulated it.”
The ruling called upon the General Assembly to approve a concealed carry law in 180 days. “It’s pretty much a mandate that Illinois has 180 days to pass a conceal carry bill for the state of Illinois,"’ said Rep. Brandon Phelps, a Harrisburg Democrat, who sponsored a concealed carry bill that failed in the House last year. Phelps said he warned those who did not support the bill that a court case could lead to a much less restrictive concealed carry option. “I said at the end of my speech [on the House floor] that everybody that voted ‘no’ on this is going to wish that we had this.”
House Bill 148 would not have allowed gun owners to carry firearms in certain restricted areas, such as schools and bars. Phelps said that bill will be scrapped and a new piece of legislation is currently being drafted. He said it would not be ready for the January lame duck session, but he hopes to introduce it to the new General Assembly in January or February of next year. Pro-gun groups and supporters of concealed carry said they will be less eager to compromise on such issues going forward.
The majority ruling said that Illinoisans have a constitutional right to carry a gun for protection, and that right extends to places outside the home. “Twenty-first century Illinois has no hostile Indians. But a Chicagoan is a good deal more likely to be attacked on a sidewalk in a rough neighborhood than in his apartment on the 35th floor of the Park Tower. A woman who is being stalked or has obtained a protective order against a violent ex-husband is more vulnerable to being attacked while walking to or from her home than when inside. She has a stronger self-defense claim to be allowed to carry a gun in public than the resident of a fancy apartment building (complete with doorman) has a claim to sleep with a loaded gun under her mattress,” Judge Richard Posner wrote.
But in the dissenting opinion, Judge Ann Williams writes that it is unclear that carrying a gun outside of the home for the purposes of self defense is a right protected by the Second Amendment and argues that the court should defer to the judgment of lawmakers when it comes to such a public safety issue. “Guns in public expose all nearby to risk, and the risk of accidental discharge or bad aim has lethal consequences. Allowing public carry of ready-to-use guns means that risk is borne by all in Illinois, including the vast majority of its citizens who choose not to have guns. The State of Illinois has a significant interest in maintaining the safety of its citizens and police officers,” Williams wrote. She concluded that the legislature “acted in its within it’s authority” when Phelp’s bill was voted down.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan said she has not made a decision on whether she will seek an appeal. The court gave 180 days before its decision will be returned to the lower court to be implemented. That time period allows our office to review what legal steps can be taken and enables the legislature to consider whether it wants to take action,” Maura Possley, a spokeswoman for Madigan, said in a written statement.
For more on the battle over concealed carry in Illinois, see Illinois Issues March 2012.