By Jamey Dunn
An Illinois House hearing on concealed carry of firearms today stirred up uncertainty over the need for lawmakers to pass legislation by the summer.
UPDATE: Gov. Pat Quinn said lawmakers should observe the federal appeals court's ruling and approve concealed carry legislation before the June deadline. “A federal court order is a serious matter. I take it seriously. I think we need to comply with it,” Quinn said.
A 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled that the state’s ban on carrying firearms in public is unconstitutional. In the opinion, the court gave the legislature 180 days to “craft a new gun law that will impose reasonable limitations, consistent with the public safety and the Second Amendment as interpreted in this opinion, on the carrying of guns in public” before it declares the current law unconstitutional. Attorney General Lisa Madigan has requested that the full court reconsider the case. However, since that December ruling, lawmakers have been negotiating under the assumption that if they did nothing, the state would become a concealed carry free-for-all after that deadline in early June.
“What you essentially will have is that you will have very few restrictions on where you can go. If you have a [Firearm Owners Identification] card in your pocket, you will not be required to have training. You’re not going to be limited to a handgun. ... I think a lot of things happen, and I don’t think a lot of those things are necessarily good,” said NRA lobbyist Todd Vandermyde. He said that is why he and supporters of concealed carry have been trying to negotiate a bill.
But Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s doesn’t see things that way. “After 180 days, anyone who decided, for example, to walk down Michigan Avenue in Chicago carrying an AK-15 would be subject to arrest and prosecution for violating the [Unlawful Use of Weapons Act,]” said Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Paul Castiglione.
He said the Cook County state’s attorney’s office intends to enforce the Illinois Unlawful Use of Weapons statute, which outlaws carrying guns in public, after the deadline, unless lawmakers change it or the Illinois Supreme Court finds it unconstitutional. “The lower federal courts, either the district courts or the courts of appeal, cannot tell the Illinois Supreme court how to rule or whether or not that law is constitutional. The only court that can resolve that split is the U.S. Supreme Court.”
The Illinois Supreme Court is currently reviewing another carry case, People v. Aguilar. “The real trigger for when this committee and this legislature has to act, I submit, is if and when the Illinois Supreme Court ever decides that the [Unlawful Use of Weapons] statute is unconstitutional.”
But backers of concealed carry disagree. “We don’t have 180 days from today; that was 180 days from December, should the ruling stand. This isn’t like pensions that you can kick the can down the road forever. ... When the clock runs out, if the legislature has not done anything, then those statutes are deemed unconstitutional,” Vandermyde said.
Elmhurst Republican Rep. Dennis Reboletti, a former prosecutor, said he does not agree with Castiglione’s take on the appeals court ruling. “My view of it would be that your office would not have to right to process Unlawful Use of a Weapon cases [after the deadline.]”
But Northbrook Democratic Rep. Elaine Nekrtiz, who chairs the committee holding hearings on concealed carry, said that the Cook County state’s attorney’s office could be correct. “I do feel like there is some question as to that now. There has been some legal research done that would indicate that Mr. Castiglione is right. I think we need to do a little bit more checking into that and get a definitive answer.” She said the committee will continue forward with its efforts. The next hearing is scheduled to be held in Chicago on Friday. However, Nekritz added, “It certainly is something that will be critical to informing the debate.”