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Illinois becomes last state to enact concealed-gun law

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (Associated Press) -

The last holdout on allowing the public possession of concealed guns, Illinois joined the rest of the nation Tuesday as lawmakers raced to beat a federal court deadline in adopting a carry law over Gov. Pat Quinn's objections.

Massive majorities in the House and Senate voted to override changes the Democratic governor made just a week ago in an amendatory veto.

Some lawmakers feared failure to pass something would mean virtually unregulated weapons in Chicago, which has endured severe gun violence in recent months -- including more than 70 shootings, at least 12 of them fatal, during the Independence Day weekend.

"This is a historic, significant day for law-abiding gun owners," said Rep. Brandon Phelps, a southern Illinois Democrat who, in 10 years in the House, has continued work on concealed carry begun by his uncle, ex-Rep. David Phelps, who began serving in the mid-1980s. "They finally get to exercise their Second Amendment rights."

The Senate voted 41-17 in favor of the override after a House tally of 77-31, margins that met the three-fifths threshold needed to set aside the amendatory veto. Quinn had used his veto authority to suggest changes, including prohibiting guns in restaurants that serve alcohol and limiting gun-toting citizens to one firearm at a time.

Quinn had predicted a "showdown in Springfield" after a week of Chicago appearances to drum up support for the changes he made in the amendatory veto. The Chicago Democrat faces a tough re-election fight next year and has already drawn a primary challenge from former White House chief of state Bill Daley, who has criticized the governor's handling of the debate over guns and other issues.

Lawmakers had little appetite for fiddling any further with the legislation on the deadline day that the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had set for ending what it said was an unconstitutional ban on carrying concealed weapons. Without action, the previous gun law would be invalidated and none would take its place.

"If we do not vote to override today, at 12:01 a.m. tomorrow, July 10, there are no restrictions upon people who want to carry handguns in the public way," said Sen. Kwame Raoul, a Chicago Democrat who negotiated the legislation with House sponsors.

Despite the setback for Quinn, he remained resolute when he spoke to reporters late in the day.

"It's very, very important that we protect the people," he said. "The legislation today does not do that. It has shortcomings that will lead to tragedies."

The law that took effect Tuesday permits anyone with a Firearm Owner's Identification card who has passed a background check and undergone gun-safety training of 16 hours -- longest of any state -- to obtain a concealed-carry permit for $150.

The Illinois State Police has six months to set up a system to start accepting applications. Spokeswoman Monique Bond said police expect 300,000 applications in the first year.

For years, powerful Chicago Democrats had tamped down agitation by gun owners to adopt concealed carry. So gun activists took the issue to court.

Gun-control advocates saw the handwriting on the wall after the December ruling. But Mark Walsh, director of the Illinois Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, remained hopeful future legislation could continue to shape the concealed carry law, and he pointed to other gun-restriction victories in the spring legislative session. They include required background checks on gun buyers in private sales and mandatory reporting of lost or stolen guns.

Quinn had urged Democratic Attorney General Lisa Madigan to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. Madigan filed motions to dismiss the lawsuits Tuesday after the override, reporting to a federal judge the issue is moot now that there's a law that answers the original legal action.

The motion said further legal action involving the law would require a new lawsuit.

Opinions varied about what would have happened had a law not taken effect. Gun supporters said it would have meant with no law governing gun possession, any type of firearm could be carried anywhere, at any time. Those supporting stricter gun control said local communities would have been able to set up tough restrictions.

With the negotiated law, gun-rights advocates got the permissive law they wanted, instead of a New York-style plan that gives law enforcement authorities wide discretion over who gets permits. In exchange, Chicago Democrats repulsed by gun violence got a long list of places deemed off limits to guns, including schools, libraries, parks and mass transit buses and trains.

But one part of the compromise had to do with establishments that serve alcohol. The law will allow diners to carry weapons into restaurants and other establishments where liquor comprises no more than 50 percent of gross sales. One of the main provisions of Quinn's amendatory veto was to nix guns where any alcohol is served.

He also wanted to limit citizens to carrying one gun at a time, a gun that is completely concealed, not "mostly concealed" as the initiative decrees. He prefers banning guns from private property unless an owner puts up a sign allowing guns -- the reverse of what's in the new law -- and would give employers more power to prohibit guns at work.

Sen. Jacqueline Collins, D-Chicago, said Quinn's changed made sense and voted to sustain the veto.

"It's a position that I'm making out of respect for the mothers and the fathers who've lost children to senseless gun violence," Collins said.

As a nod to Quinn, Senate President John Cullerton floated legislation that addressed the governor's worries. But the Senate ultimately approved a follow-up bill that only mentioned two of his suggestions. It failed in the House.

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The concealed carry bill is HB183. The Cullerton bill is HB1453.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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