By Jamey Dunn
For the second time in two days, the Illinois House voted down a concealed carry bill.
A federal court struck down the state’s ban on concealed carry of firearms and gave the state a June 9 deadline to pass legislation to regulate carry. If there is no law regulating carry when that deadline hits, the court could opt to allow what many are calling constitutional carry, which would let anyone with a Firearm Owners Identification Card carry a gun anywhere in the state.
House Bill 997 (Amendment 9) needed 71 votes to pass because it would supersede the control of local home rule governments. It received only 64 “yes” votes.
The measure is a “shall-issue” bill that would require the Illinois State Police to issue concealed carry licenses to all qualified applicants. However, the legislation would allow local law enforcement to contest an application if they can demonstrate that applicants are a danger to themselves or others.
“A lot of people probably don’t want to hear this, but this is probably the strictest shall-issue bill in the country,” said Rep. Brandon Phelps, who sponsors the legislation. Phelps, a Harrisburg Democrat, said he tried to compromise with those who are concerned about concealed carry by increasing the amount of time that permit applicants would have to spend in training and upping the fees of the permits. Under his proposal, $30 out of every $100 permit fee would be dedicated to fix the state’s troubled Firearm Owner Identification (FOID) system, which does not receive most mental health records from county officials. Phelps called the current system a “travesty.” The measure also would increase penalties for violating the restrictions in the legislation.
But those tweaks could not bridge the deep divides on gun issues, which many lawmakers acknowledge are driven by regional differences.
“Clearly, we do simply come at this from different perspectives,” said Chicago Democratic Rep. Kelly Cassidy. On Wednesday, the House soundly rejected Cassidy’s more restrictive “may issue” bill, which would have required applicants for permits to demonstrate a need to carry a firearm. It also would have let sheriffs, who would issue the permits under her proposal, use their discretion when deciding who could and could not carry. Opponents of such a model say it allows for unequal treatment and could let some counties essential opt out of concealed carry by denying the bulk of applications received.
Cassidy said she respects the desires of people in more rural communities who view guns as tools for hunting and protection. But she said lawmakers must also consider gun violence in some parts of Chicago, where young people are shooting each other in the streets. “The only hunting that’s happen in my neighborhood is of young men. More guns are not the answer to our gun problem in Chicago. Please. Let’s get to the table. Let’s get a solution that respects the differences between our communities. There is a solution, and there is time. This isn’t soup yet.”
Proponents of Phelps' bill said concealed carry could help protect residents of high crime areas, where criminals already have guns. “Wouldn’t it be nice for them to wonder if everybody had a gun? That’s the real deterrent,” said Rep. David Reis. He said of criminals who already illegally use guns: “You’re never going to control them. You control them by having an armed society.”
Reis, a Willow Hill Republican, said people in other parts of the state need to carry guns to ensure their safety when the police cannot come quickly enough. “For us in rural areas, [it is] 20 or 30 minutes before a sheriff can get to our house or to our fields where we’re working.”
When the bill failed Rep. Will Davis, a Chicago Democrat who voted against it, called out a similar sentiment to Cassidy’s remarks. “It’s not soup yet; not yet,” he said, and was met by calls of “it’s close” from supporters.
But Phelps was not so optimistic. “It might be the last chance. I don’t know what else we can give on.” His bill would preempt local control, which would bar local governments from putting their own carry laws in place. He said he does not plan to compromise on that issue. “There should be one uniform law that everybody knows about,” he said. Phelps said it would be too much to ask traveling gun owners to keep track of different laws across counties and cities throughout the state. “We think that you could make law abiding gun owners criminals.”
Phelps said lawmakers need to wake up to the reality of the court ordered deadline. “It better get real here soon because that's June 9th,” he said. If he and others on his side decide to leave the negotiations, he said, there would not be enough votes to pass legislation in the House. “If we walk, there’s not going to be a bill.