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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Has the time finally come for concealed carry in Illinois?

     

    Proponents of a law that would allow Illinoisans to carry concealed weapons think they’ve got a good shot at getting the legislation passed this year.

    They say a number of factors are in play, ranging from a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year that knocked down a Chicago ban on handguns to a national trend of states allowing citizens to carry weapons. Illinois is the only state that does not allow its residents to carry a gun in some fashion.

    And, privately, some supporters say Illinois’ downstate voters, generally more conservative than those in Chicago and the rest of Cook County, haven’t been thrilled lately with their state legislators. Fresh on downstate voters’ minds, they say, are an income tax increase, civil unions, the governor’s plan to borrow billions and hire 950 new state workers, the possible abolition of the death penalty and investigations into workers’ compensation claims by state employees.

    Downstate legislators from both parties have long been overwhelmingly supportive of gun-ownership rights, but they might be pushing harder now to get cooperation on the concealed-carry issue from their fellow legislators in the Chicago area, who traditionally favor restrictions on gun ownership.

    “”They’re taking a lot of heat, especially downstate,”” said Valinda Rowe, spokeswoman for IllinoisCarry.com. “”I think a lot of that is because of the recent voting they’ve done. We’re more conservative in the lower part of the state.””

    She added, “”Those legislators are putting pressure on their leadership, saying, ‘Our constituents are behind this, and I’m catching a lot of heat for being the only state left that doesn’t have a carry law.’ I’m hearing that a lot from the people who contact us, and I’m hearing that out of Springfield, also, that people are upset that the basic right to defend yourself, the basic constitutional right, is being denied, while all these other things are flying right through.””

    State Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton, didn’t deny that downstate legislators could use a pick-me-up. He pointed out, though, that the tax increase includes some measures that he considers conservative, such as an annual spending cap. He also added that he voted against civil unions and has filed a bill that would declare marriage to be between a man and a woman.

    Haine, a concealed-carry proponent, said downstate senators have spoken with Senate President John Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat.

    “”He knows our views,”” Haine said. “”He hasn’t said where he’s going to go with it, but he’s very well in-tune to what we need. We’d like to have a vote on it.””

    Haine added, “”It’s the right thing to do. It isn’t that it’s politically the right thing to do, it’s the right thing to do to let citizens protect themselves against criminals.””

    Rep. Tom Holbrook, D-Belleville, disputes the notion that downstate legislators are in need of some good publicity. He agrees, though, that the odds of a concealed-carry law passing in Illinois have never been better.

    “”It has a better chance this year than it has in my career here in the last 17 years,”” said Holbrook, one of several sponsors of the concealed-carry bill in the House.

    Holbrook said the main factors are the Supreme Court ruling, Chicago getting a new mayor and the national trend of states allowing concealed-carry. Wisconsin and Illinois are the only states that do not allow citizens to carry a concealed weapon. Wisconsin does, however, allow open carrying of a weapon, such as a gun carried in plain sight in a holster on a belt.

    “”When I started, one in four states, roughly, had a concealed-carry law,”” Holbrook said.

    Mark Walsh, campaign director for Illinois Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said there’s talk that downstate legislators are pushing harder this year for a concealed-carry law.

    “”We’ve heard that rumor,”” Walsh said. “”But putting more guns on the streets isn’t the answer.””

    Walsh also disputes the notion that a concealed-carry law has a better chance of passing this year.

    “”They make the same claim, every February, at the start of the new legislative session,”” he said. “”It might get out of the Agriculture Committee, but we don’t think it has enough votes to get out of the House or the Senate.””

    The House Agriculture and Conservation Committee on Tuesday overwhelmingly OK’d some bills supported by gun advocates. They mostly involved whether municipalities can impose gun laws that are more strict than state law. The committee took no action on the primary concealed-carry bill, House Bill 148.

    The committee’s chairwoman, Rep. Lisa Dugan, D-Bradley, said testimony on that bill will be heard March 8. She said the committee plans to secure a larger meeting room for that day.

    “”I know there’s a lot of people who are going to be testifying,”” Dugan said.

    Todd VandermydeIllinois lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, said there’s “”a clear majority”” in both the House and Senate for passage of concealed-carry.

    Vandermyde said many Illinoisans are surprised to learn that Illinois is alone in not allowing the carrying of a gun in some form.

    “”But people are waking up,”” he said.

    Concealed-carry has “”more support than ever before from law enforcement,”” Vandermyde said. St. Clair County Sheriff Mearl Justus and Madison County Sheriff Bob Hertz are on record of being in support.

    Vandermyde also said the Supreme Court ruling makes this year different. He noted the Second Amendment states that the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, “”and we think those words aren’t there by accident.””

    Those offering testimony on March 8, Vandermyde said, will likely include Otis McDonald, the Chicago resident in his 70s who took the city’s handgun ban to the high court after his home was burglarized three times.

    Haine said the Supreme Court ruling is “”one of the biggest factors. It did uphold the Second Amendment as a constitutional right.””

    Steve King, owner of Belleville Indoor Shooting Range, said he’s trying not to be too optimistic, because the governor, Senate leader and House leader are all Chicagoans.

    “”In every state that has concealed carry, it hasn’t turned into the Wild West. There haven’t been armed citizens running the streets, causing havoc. It’s been just the opposite — less crime,”” King said.

    He added, “”The economy is getting bad, and when the economy gets bad, people get desperate. Desperate people do desperate deeds. The people who are the victims are the people who can’t protect themselves.””

    The elderly and women, King said, are the most vulnerable.

    “”The police can’t be everywhere,”” he said. “”We can’t blame the police. We have to protect ourselves.””

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