Guns going undercover

By Darryl Holliday

A growing number of downstate representatives may soon make Illinois the 49th state to allow residents to carry firearms in public—to the dismay of many

urban legislators.

The Family and Personal Protection Act, HB 148, was introduced on Jan. 13 and has until March 29 to be moved out of committee. If made into a law, it will permit the concealed carrying of firearms statewide and give county sheriffs power to issue permits granting concealed firearms to individuals meeting certain guidelines, including background and fingerprint checks.

“To use the phrase ‘because everybody is doing it’ doesn’t make it right,” said State Rep. Norine Hammond of the 94th District. “But Illinois is one of only two states that do not allow for some form of concealed carry. Basically, it speaks to an individual’s Second Amendment right—by the Constitution of the U.S., they are allowed to own firearms, and they would like to be able to carry those firearms in the state of Illinois.”

The debate largely comes down to geo-graphics, according to Hammond—which, as it turns out, is something legislators on both sides of the aisle seem to agree with.

“Most of [the bill’s supporters] are from downstate or some of the rural areas, and I think there are two different sets of circumstances that need to be taken into account,” said 36th District State Rep. Kelly Burke. “What might work in a rural area might not work in a high-density area.”

Burke’s identity was recently the subject of interest in the anti-firearms blogosphere because of her being the lone “nay” vote on six recent gun-related bills. She, like Hammond, is one of 13 members on the Agricultural and Conservation Committee—the second committee to vote on the concealed carry bill. In that vote, she was one of two members to vote against it.

There are concerns in her community—a high-density area of the state that includes Evergreen Park, parts of Oak Lawn, and parts of Chicago’s 18th, 19th and 21st wards, among others—that a potential rise in crime would follow should the bill become law, according to Burke.

“It’s a one-size-fits-all bill,” she said. “I think they should be taking local conditions into account. To me, this is not a solution.”

If enacted, the legislation would introduce a uniform concealed carry law to all parts of the state, including Chicago—despite many efforts on the part of city officials to reduce the availability of guns, including its attempt to ban handguns.

In June 2010, the city’s ban on handguns was shot down by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of McDonald v. Chicago. According to Hammond, the ruling was a sign of the times and part of a growing movement in favor of gun rights.

“It’s very difficult for Chicago legislators to sign on with [the bill] because they truly believe in their heart of hearts it would be bad for the city, and I have to appreciate their beliefs just as I hope they do mine,” Hammond said.

Backers of the bill argue that allowing concealed carry will level the playing field as far as criminals who carry guns illegally are concerned. Gun rights advocates say letting residents carry guns will be a convincing deterrent against robberies and other assaults, which will reduce crime.

Another main reason for the bill is protection—like its name implies, according to State Rep. Patrick J. Verschoore, another member of the Agriculture and Conservation Committee.

“I’m a co-sponsor, and I’m not saying I’ll get a permit to carry a gun if it passes,’ Verschoore said. “But I think everyone [who] wants to have a concealed carry should be able to do so.”

Though gun laws are commonly seen as a partisan issue, the concealed carry bill has support on both sides. The bill’s original sponsor, State Rep. Brandon W. Phelps, is a Democrat and has gained more than 60 bipartisan co-sponsors.

If passed, the bill will move to the House floor for debate. It will then move to the Senate for a vote before being reviewed by both houses. If passed again, the bill will then move to Gov. Pat Quinn for signing.

“In the past, [Quinn] said he would not sign it,” Verschoore said. “Now I’m hearing that he’s rethinking it, and he might sign it. But it’d be nice if we could get 71 votes, [a supermajority]—that would make it veto proof.”