Retired law enforcement duel with Illinois over concealed carry gun license privileges

ByChuck Goudie and Barb Markoff, Christine Tressel and Tom Jones WLS logo
Thursday, April 4, 2024
Retired law enforcement duel with state over concealed carry prvileges
The Illinois state agency tasked with issuing special concealed carry permits to retired law enforcement has refused to enforce the law, arguing it conflicts with federal guideline

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Correctional officers and courthouse deputies are in a duel with the State of Illinois that has lasted more than a decade focused on whether those retired officers are entitled to special concealed carry gun permits, the ABC 7 I-Team has learned.

Gov. JB Pritzker initially said yes, and signed a new law that took effect on Jan. 1, 2023, allowing all retired law enforcement officers to qualify for special permits.

But the state agency tasked with issuing those permits has since refused to enforce the law, arguing it conflicts with federal guidelines.

The duel could be decided this Thursday by a Cook County circuit court judge, and many retired law enforcement officers tell the I-Team they are frustrated it has taken so long for their arguments to be heard.

"We're asking what we're entitled to legally by law: a right to defend ourselves legally if something happens," said retired Cook County Sheriff's Deputy Tom Kush. "After 30 years of qualifying, and everything, I just don't understand why they think that they can do this."

During his career Kush served eviction notices, orders of protection, and child custody decisions, arresting criminals that he said he's been confronted by in public since he retired.

"When you're out at a restaurant with your family, or something like that, you'll see these guys," Kush explained, "Which happened to me twice. And I had to leave right away because I didn't want to put my family in that situation."

The threat to retired law enforcement officers was recognized by Congress in 2004, with passage of the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act or LEOSA.

The law allowed qualified retired officers to carry concealed weapons, even in places where firearms are not allowed.

Here in Illinois, it's called an "Illinois Retired Officer Concealed Carry" or IROCC card.

But for nearly two decades, Illinois correctional officers and court deputies, including Kush, have not been eligible for that privilege.

State officials argue the federal law wasn't meant to cover this class of law enforcement.

Lawmakers here disagree.

"Congress intended correctional officers and court deputies to have this privilege," said Chicago State Senator Bill Cunningham (D- IL 18th District). "We said, 'Okay, then we will change the state law.'"

Cunningham did just that, authoring HB 4667, which passed with a majority of support, and in 2022, Gov. Pritzker signed it.

The law went into effect last year.

But the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board (ILETSB), the state agency in charge of permitting, has refused to do so, claiming these retired officers and deputies are not "qualified law enforcement" under federal guidelines.

Cunningham said no one from the state board has offered to work with him to refine the language of the already existing law.

"I believe they've gone rogue," Cunningham said. "I think they don't like this concept and they are finding excuses not to execute the law."

ILETSB declined to be interviewed by the I-Team, but said in an email that Cunningham's law, "does not bring Illinois correctional officers under [federal] requirements."

"It is the ILETSB's position that currently, the Federal LEOSA statute and Illinois law are in conflict with respect to whether Illinois correctional officers are qualified law enforcement officers," a statement reads.

Months after the ILETSB refused to enforce the new law, a class-action lawsuit was filed last July against it by a group of retired officers who want the state board to issue permits as the law requires.

The Illinois Attorney General's office, representing ILETSB, has since filed a motion to dismiss the case and on Thursday a judge could decide whether the case will move forward or not.

"We welcome guidance from the courts," the ILETSB spokesperson said.

When asked about the legal debate on the state law signed by Gov. Pritzker, his spokesperson Alex Gough told the I-Team, "ILETSB did an in-depth legal analysis of this law and reached the conclusion that it conflicts with the federal [LEOSA]... When federal and state law are in conflict, state agencies and officers must follow federal law."

"ILETSB looks forward to receiving a ruling from the court on the interpretation of this law and its relation to existing federal law and preemption," Gough said.

Kush feels the state's denial disrespects his years of firearm qualifications and training.

"I know part of the issue was [the state] wanted everybody to feel safe," Kush said. "Well, what about all the officers over the last 20 years who've retired and now legally can't carry their weapon to defend themselves? It's a slap in the face."