By Jamey Dunn
Supporters of concealed carry of firearms hope to pass a bill on Thursday after the House today rejected a proposal similar to a more restrictive system used in New York state.
The chamber voted 31 to 76 today against adopting an amendment to House Bill 831 that would give local law enforcement officials discretion when issuing licenses to carry firearms in public. Supporters of concealed carry in Illinois are pushing for a “shall issue” licensing system that would require the state to give permits to applicants who meet the requirements set out in the law. But earlier this week the U.S. Supreme Court opted not to hear a challenge to New York’s “may issue” law. That statute allows law enforcement officials to deny applicants who may be qualified on paper for a license if they think the applicant presents a danger. Those who would like a stricter law took the court’s action as a sign that Illinois should go for a “may issue” model.
But today’s vote encouraged gun rights advocates. “Now more than ever, the ‘may issue’ should be completely off the table because it was really evident that they are a long way from passing a ‘may issue,’” said Rep. Brandon Phelps, a Harrisburg Democrat.
He said he plans to call legislation for a floor vote tomorrow that is similar to House Bill 997, a concealed carry bill he introduced earlier this legislative session. “We’ve got to have something done,” he said, citing the June deadline a federal court gave lawmakers to pass concealed 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.
The New York law also requires applicants to provide a reason for their need to carry in public. Such a provision was in the proposal voted down in the Illinois House today. “Our communities are different. Since you’re establishing danger distinct from other members of your community, it would be unique to your community,” said Rep. Kelly Cassidy, the sponsor of HB831. Under the legislation, sheriffs would determine whether an applicant made the case for needing to carry a firearm. “In each community, the sheriff is going the have the best understanding of the questions of personal safety in the community.” After a sheriff signed off on an application, it would then go the Illinois State Police for another round of scrutiny.
Cassidy, a Chicago Democrat, said the bill was an effort to balance constitutional rights with public safety and recognize that geographic areas of the state have different issues with guns. Supporters agreed. “The court said that it was legitimate for us to impose a balancing act to set the rights of people to be safe from guns that are out of control against the rights of people to be able to protect themselves,” said Chicago Democratic Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie. She said the measure that the House considered today “does exactly that.” Currie said during floor debate, “If you want Illinois to be the wild West, I invite you to vote against” the amendment.
But opponents say the proposal would be a way to effectively exempt Chicago from concealed carry. “Downstate will probably be more liberal with their concealed carry permit, versus Chicago and Cook County,” said Elmhurst Republican Rep. Dennis Reboletti. “I believe this is just really an end (run) around what the 7th Circuit [Court of Appeals] has stated we should do.”
Phelps said he has worked compromise into his legislation, which was being drafted late tonight. Under his previous proposal, the state police would issue concealed carry licenses, but sheriffs could contest applications. Phelps said he also plans to give that option to Chicago city police. Phelps said he also plans to increase the fee for licenses from the $25 fee in his first iteration of the plan to $100 and call for $30 from each license to go to a special fund dedicated to repairing the state’s troubled FOID card system and ensuring that county mental health records are reported to the state police. He said training requirements would also be increased from four hours in the original bill to 10 hours and would include a live ammunition test. “We’re offering a lot of things,” he said. “This version of what we’re going to try to run tomorrow is a combination of about four bills that we have had in the time that I have been here.”
Phelps said supporters of his plan believe it is a “last chance” to get a compromise before the deadline runs out. “I don’t know if there’s another chance to pass anything. I think that there’s a lot of people who are going to say, ‘Look, we tried. Let’s just go off the cliff. Let’s do constitutional carry.’” He said a lot of House members who have never voted in favor of a concealed-carry bill are afraid of that happening. “I’ve got a lot of people who are interested in voting for this that never have before because they don’t want constitutional carry.”
But gun control advocates cautioned not to read too much into today’s vote. They said they knew the support wasn’t there yet, but they think they can find backing for a bill that allows Chicago some local control. While lawmakers must get something done, they say, it isn’t crunch time yet.
“I don’t think we should just rush to do something because we’ve got a deadline,” said Coleen Daley, executive director of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence. “We need to make sure that whatever we’re going to do will respect people’s 2nd Amendment rights, while also keeping people safe.” She said gun control groups have not had “true negotiations” in the House but are working with lawmakers in the Senate on a proposal. “I do think there’s promise that we’ll find something that will end up working,” she says. “We’ve been willing to negotiate from day one.”
Phelps said he would spend the evening lobbying House members. He thinks he is very close to having the 71 votes he needs to pass his bill tomorrow. “This is the closest we’ve ever been.”