Monday, February 7, 2011

Illinois Legislature Prepares For Another Battle Over Guns


By: Kevin McDermott
St.Louis Post Dispatch

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. • Gun advocates say a landmark ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court last year, combined with a new landscape in the Illinois Legislature this year, could usher in a long-debated law to let people carry handguns in public in Illinois — the last state in the nation that doesn't allow it.

"If my vote count is right, there is a majority (in the Illinois Legislature) that would support the 'carry' bill" if sponsors can get it past the opposition of legislative leaders in both chambers, said Todd Vandermyde, a National Rifle Association lobbyist in Springfield. "We're clearly there."

Such optimism from the gun lobby isn't unusual at the start of Illinois legislative sessions, which perennially begin with a slew of "concealed carry" bills that ultimately don't pass.
What's different this year is that anti-gun voices aren't being as dismissive of the legislation's chances as in past years.

"The Supreme Court cases might give some momentum to them ... and (the Legislature) is a more conservative body" following the November elections, said state Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, a key opponent of legalizing concealed weapons in Illinois. "Certainly, those of us opposed to concealed carry have much to be concerned about."

More than a dozen pro-gun bills have already been filed for the new legislative session that began three weeks ago. Several would allow Illinois residents in the state to carry concealed weapons as Missouri and 47 other states do. Other bills would prevent cities from imposing gun control ordinances that are stricter than state law.

Wisconsin is the only state other than Illinois that doesn't allow concealed carrying of handguns today — and in Wisconsin, "open carry" is allowed. The gun lobby has long focused on Illinois as the last holdout against legal gun possession in public.

Pro-gun activists now are leaning heavily on two recent Supreme Court cases. In the District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that residents have a right to possess guns in their homes in federal enclaves. Last year, in McDonald v. Chicago, the court ruled that that right extends to state jurisdictions. Together, the two cases represent the clearest declaration yet from the high court that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to individual gun ownership.

"We're not going to cede Illinois. We're not going to play defense in Illinois, we're going to play offense. Illinois is not immune to the United States Supreme Court," said Vandermyde, who calls the two Supreme Court cases "real game-changers."
"It's high time Illinois joined the rest of the country."
Opponents point out that neither Supreme Court ruling specifically addressed the issue of concealed carry, as opposed to having weapons in the home.

"The Supreme Court in both decisions said there is some room for reasonable regulation" of guns, noted Mark Walsh, campaign director for the Illinois Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. The Chicago-based group "will continue to work with our allies to make sure it doesn't pass," said Walsh.
He dismissed the argument that Illinois should rethink its law because the rest of the nation has. "My mother used to say, 'If all your friends jumped off the building, would you?'"

Another game changer may be the new makeup of the Legislature seated last month. It's still majority Democrat in both chambers but by smaller margins. That, combined with generally pro-gun downstate Democrats, they say, could put them over the top.

"There's been quite a bit of change in the House. It's closer. We're going to be testing the water with these new numbers," said Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, who is among the sponsors of the new legislation.
Proponents of concealed carry say it could reduce crime, because criminals won't know who might be armed. "We're saying ... 'Let us defend ourselves,'" said Bost.

Opponents say it could lead to more gun violence because people will be armed when they get into conflicts that wouldn't otherwise turn deadly. "The argument that more guns on the street will make people safer is a flawed argument," said Walsh, of the gun control group.

With no conclusive data supporting either position, the issue likely will come down to a simple matter of legislative votes. And the math in Springfield gets complicated when it comes to gun legislation, which often breaks down along cultural rather than partisan lines.
While the state's Democratic leadership generally favors gun control and the GOP is generally against it, some Chicago-area Republicans and many downstate Democrats break with their respective parties on the issue.
"You're talking to a Democrat," said Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, a sponsor of new pro-gun legislation, when asked about his party's role in stopping concealed carry in Illinois in recent years.
"We have additional ammunition now," said Bradley, referring to the court cases. "We'll see how it shakes out.''

The Legislature begins its first regular week of the new session on Tuesday.

1 comment:


The right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.