Activists aim for increased gun rights

By Contributing Writer

By Kayla Unnerstall, Contributing Writer

While cooking breakfast for her mother and cousin, Radie heard the sound of shattering glass come from the basement of her house on Chicago’s South Side. Instinctively, she grabbed the handgun that never leaves her side while at home and headed downstairs to investigate. As she reached the basement, she found two burglars armed with tire irons. One man raised his weapon and advanced toward her, and she whipped out her gun and fired.

“The first burglar ran away, but the second one didn’t have the chance to,” Radie said.

He later died from the gunshot wound.

The gun that saved her life approximately one year ago is the same one that gives Radie security today as a 46-year-old living alone. But after surviving that invasion, she is afraid she will be attacked again in her neighborhood and left defenseless because of Illinois’ lack of conceal-and-carry laws.

“All I’m asking for is a fighting chance to be able to protect myself,” Radie, whose name has been changed for security reasons, told the crowd gathered March 7 for the annual Illinois Gun Owners Lobby Day in Springfield, Ill.

The audience responded with a boisterous roar of applause and a standing ovation. The Lobby Day has existed for several years, having grown out of a smaller event called Illinois State Rifle Association Lobby Day.

Thousands of Illinois firearm owners journeyed to the IGOLD event to promote their goal of getting the state legislature to pass a right-to-carry law that would enable them to pack concealed firearms outside the home.

This year’s gathering began at the Prairie Capital Convention Center with speeches from Radie and others, such as Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, and State Treasurer Dan Rutherford.

From there, more than 7,000 gold-clad protesters marched through the streets of Springfield to the state capitol’s Lincoln steps, where they were greeted by pro-right-to-carry legislators, including Sen. Kyle McCarter (R–51st).

“The most basic right is the right to life and we must be able to defend ourselves,” McCarter said. “Unfortunately, there are those, like the mayor of Chicago, who believe such rights are the business of government. God-given rights cannot and should not be taken by any man. Our rights are priceless, but they carry a personal price tag for all of us.”

As supporters entered the capitol to mingle with legislators, a “Conceal Carry Now” chant rang throughout the building.

“IGOLD 2012 turned out to be the largest Second Amendment rally ever held in Illinois and maybe in the whole country,” said spokeswoman Valinda Rowe. “IGOLD is our most effective tool to get our message out. We aren’t asking for money. We are asking for our rights.”

According to the ISRA, 49 states currently have a conceal-and-carry law, Illinois being the lone holdout.

“[Chicago] is a mess. We don’t have open carry, and because the good Lord took him, we don’t even have Harry Caray,” said Andre Queen, a law enforcement firearms instructor.

The stated goal of many Second Amendment groups is to protect the right to keep and bear arms for current and future generations.

“We need to pull Illinois into the 21st century,” Rowe said. “Not a single state has repealed their conceal-and-carry law because it was a problem.”

One of the major arguments advanced by supporters of gun control laws is that conceal-and-carry would contribute to a rise in crime and pose a threat to public safety.

“Innocent people get killed when people use guns in incidents that police could properly handle,” said Caroline Brewer, director of Communications at the Brady Campaign, an organization dedicated to preventing gun violence. “Our lives and our safety are threatened. That’s not the kind of America I believe most Americans want to live in.”

However, supporters of conceal-and-carry laws maintain that such would not be the case.

“Supporters of gun control laws say that blood will run red in the streets if conceal-and-carry laws are passed,” Queen said. “Obviously they haven’t been to my old neighborhood of Englewood on the South Side because it’s pretty bad there now. People can’t leave their homes, and the criminals are the ones terrorizing good, honest and hard-working folks.”

Ed Arroyo, police chief of Hinckley, Ill., pointed out that the number of violent crimes, especially those against women and the elderly, decreases when a right-to-carry law is passed.

“[The conceal-and-carry law] might make criminals think twice before committing their crimes,” Arroyo said.

A right-to-carry bill was voted on in the Illinois House in May 2011 but failed to obtain the required supermajority by six votes. The bill was put on postponed consideration and can be recalled for another vote until January 2013.

Supporters are trying to bring the bill back for another vote before the House adjourns this spring.