Five reasons concealed-carry backers in Springfield are optimistic that this is their year
Is this the year when Illinois becomes the last of the 50 states to allow adults to carry firearms in most public settings?
Supporters of the idea are optimistic. Legislation moving through the General Assembly calls for sheriff's departments to issue licenses to qualifying citizens permitting them to carry concealed guns, and backers offer five reasons why prospects for this perennial idea have never been better.
1. The tide of history
Twenty-five years ago, our prohibition was mainstream law in the heartland. Ohio, Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas and Nebraska were among more than a dozen states (in red, right) that didn't issue concealed-carry licenses, according to historical charts generated by HandgunLaw.us, a site that tracks such things. Only eight states were so-called shall-issue jurisdictions (blue), where citizens who met certain qualifications were automatically eligible to get such licenses.
Now (left), 37 states are "shall issue," another eight are "may issue," (yellow)where licensing authorities have discretion over which qualifying persons get a license, three have no restrictions (green) and Wisconsin, where a concealed-carry bill is moving through a Republican Legislature and will likely be signed by a Republican governor, already allows for those who legally own guns to carry them openly.
2. The lesson of history
Gun rights like this have expanded everywhere. Opponents fretted in advance that the streets were going to run with blood and every little traffic altercation would result in deadly shootouts, while supporters insisted that crime would drop because evildoers and the intemperate would never know who might be packing.
There are plenty of anecdotes to support either position. Gun-rights advocates have no end of stories of armed citizens thwarting bad guys as well as statistics indicating that permit-holders are far more law-abiding than average, while the Violence Policy Center in Washington, D.C., keeps a running tally on its website of people killed by concealed handgun permit-holders since May 2007 (it's up to 288).
Academics have sifted through these kinds of claims and counterclaims and have come to opposing conclusions for decades. And having read this research (with sometimes glassy eyes), I'm inclined to agree with the National Academy of Sciences panel that concluded in 2004 that, given the difficulty of isolating all the potential variables, there isn't convincing evidence either way that right-to-carry laws increase or decrease crime rates.
In short, there's no good reason for a state not to issue such permits.
3. A wink from the U.S. Supreme Court
Phelps Brandon State Rep "I've never seen this proposal have so much traction and I attribute it mostly to the two U.S. Supreme Court rulings," said state Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, (right) referring to the rulings that lifted handgun ownership bans in Chicago and Washington, D.C.
Phelps introduced House Bill 148, and in it quoted Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's majority opinion in the Washington case in which the court mulled over what the authors of the Second Amendment meant by the right to "bear" arms, and concluded they meant to guarantee "the individual right to possess and carry weapons" in anticipation of confrontation. My emphasis added.
4. Law enforcement's lowered resistance
Police have traditionally been opponents of concealed-carry laws, but two years ago the Illinois Sheriffs' Association announced its support for the idea and the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police recently dropped its opposition and adopted the same neutral position staked out by the Illinois State Police.
"We decided that if we stayed opposed, we wouldn't have a seat at the table" during negotiations over amendments police are seeking, said Laimutis Nargelenas, a spokesman for the chiefs. "So we went neutral."
5. The downstate natives are restless
Democrats, in particular, need to toss a bone to the more conservative voters downstate who're chafing more than a bit at the end of the death penalty and the implementation of same-sex civil unions, which Phelps said his constituents see as Chicago-centric. "We feel kind of slighted," he added.
Gov. Pat Quinn has indicated his opposition to concealed-carry in the past (as has Chicago Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel), but Quinn recently issued a statement saying he'd give the proposal "the thorough review it deserves should it arrive on (his) desk."
Rep. Phelps said he hopes not to need Quinn's signature or Emanuel's OK. Indeed, because such a change arguably overrules the powers of home-rule communities, the concealed-carry bill is probably going to need a veto-proof three-fifths majority simply to pass.
That threshold is one major reason backers should be pessimistic. But maybe if they throw in a few concessions to those pushing for "common-sense gun restrictions," they can reach a deal and Illinois can stop being the odd state out.
Links of interest below
The February, 2009 news release from the Illinois Sherrifs Association (.pdf) announcing a shift in favor of concealed carry
Illinois House Bill 0148, The Family and Personal Protection Act.
Concealed carry has more support in Legislature this year, sponsor says, (March 8, Gatehouse News Service/ Andy Brownfield) House committee advances concealed-carry bill (March 10,Gatehouse News Service/ Andy Brownfield)
Data on Firearms and Violence Too Weak to Settle Policy Debates; Comprehensive Research Effort Needed -- The National Academy of Sciences news release, Dec. 16, 2004
From the Violence Policy Center -- "Total People Killed by Concealed Handgun Permit Holders."
I don't often link to Wikipedia, but its article Concealed carry in the United States is a link-rich resource if you're looking to explore both/all sides of this issue.
A wee bit on home-rule and the veto from the Illinois Constitution that may apply here:
ARTICLE VII SECTION 6. POWERS OF HOME RULE UNITS
A County which has a chief executive officer elected by the electors of the county and any municipality which has a population of more than 25,000 are home rule units. Other municipalities may elect by referendum to become home rule units. Except as limited by this Section, a home rule unit may exercise any power and perform any function pertaining to its government and affairs including, but not limited to, the power to regulate for the protection of the public health, safety, morals and welfare;..... The General Assembly by a law approved by the vote of three-fifths of the members elected to each house may deny or limit the power to tax and any other power or function of a home rule unit....
ARTICLE IV, SECTION 9 (c) VETO PROCEDURE
The house to which a bill is returned shall immediately enter the Governor's objections upon its journal. If within 15 calendar days after such entry that house by a record vote of three-fifths of the members elected passes the bill, it shall be delivered immediately to the second house. If within 15 calendar days after such delivery the second house by a record vote of three-fifths of the members elected passes the bill, it shall become law.