Both sides weigh in on concealed carry bill

March 29, 2011 6:52:46 PM PDT
Should Illinois residents be allowed to carry a concealed weapon? There's a bill being considered that would make Illinois one of the last states to approve permits for concealed carry.

Those on both sides of the issue are weighing in on the proposed legislation.

Illinois is one of only two states that do not allow concealed carry. Wisconsin is the other.

Twice, Wisconsin has passed a version of concealed carry, but it was twice vetoed by then Governor Jim Doyle. There is a new governor now who has indicated he would sign it if the bill reaches his desk. Were that to happen, Illinois would be the only state in the union without some form of concealed carry, and once again the battle lines are drawn.

Three years ago, Mary Kay Mace lost her daughter. Ryanne Mace was 19. She was one of the victims of the shooting rampage on the campus of Northern Illinois University. The shooter had a mental health history, but he still managed to obtain firearms.

"As long as there is an enormous backlog of records is missing from the database, it would be reprehensible to pass legislation to allow people to carry concealed firearms," Mace said.

Tuesday morning, Mace joined other relatives of gun violence victims to urge the General Assembly to reject a bill that would allow the concealed carry of handguns in Illinois.

"Common sense tells us that fender benders could turn into a shootout," said former Cook County State's Attorney Dick Devine.

Opponents have long argued that the ability to carry concealed weapons does not lessen crime in the vast majority of states that have it, but raises gun crimes of passion and opportunity.

"I don't think that's true at all. I think that you've seen a lessening of crime, particularly against the elderly and women. And I also see that you don't have the spikes that they say you will get in crime if you have people walk with fire arms who have been properly trained," said Richard Pearson of the Illinois State Rifle Association.

The Illinois General Assembly has always turned down concealed carry, but the dynamics of the debate have changed somewhat since the U.S. Supreme Court's decision last June allowing handguns in the home for self-protection. The question is, does that not extend to the street?

The bill now before the Illinois House would allow county sheriffs to issue concealed carry permits to those who qualify for a Firearms Owner ID card, undergo an FBI background check, and pass both classroom and range training for handguns.

The Illinois Police Chief's Association has relaxed its opposition to concealed carry, though not Acting Chicago Police Superintendent Terry Hillard, who was himself twice wounded in the line of duty.

"If we have a different mindset on that, I have to stick to my principles also. I want to protect our cops," said Hillard.

And for a mom who lost her daughter in a place she presumed to be safe:

"I think it's very offensive and very misleading when people say kids carrying guns on campus will save lives. That's not the case," said Mace.

House Bill 148 has had a second reading. Similar bills in the past have not had much traction, but the legal and political landscapes have changed significantly in the last year.

Opponents think concealed carry stands a good chance of passage. Gun control advocates in the General Assembly believe it won't, but one of them said Tuesday afternoon the issue is closer than it has ever been.