Legislators discuss concealed weapons ruling
by JASON PORTERFIELD
Northwest Side lawmakers discussed firearms restrictions that they see as necessary following a court decision that struck down the state’s long-standing ban on carrying concealed weapons.
In a 2-1 ruling on Dec. 11, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution confers a right to self-defense both inside and outside the home, and that evidence suggests that carrying firearms in public may promote self-defense. At the time of the ruling Illinois was the only state in the nation that still with a ban on concealed weapons.
“Illinois has to provide us with more than merely a rational basis for believing that its uniquely sweeping ban is justified by an increase in public safety,” the court ruled. “It has failed to meet that burden.”
The court gave the state 180 days to pass legislation that would allow residents to carry concealed weapons and put in place any restrictions on where firearms might be prohibited. If no legislation is signed into law in that time, the concealed firearms ban would be lifted with no restrictions in place on where they would be allowed or who could carry them.
Most states require that people go through a permit process before they can carry a concealed gun, and some states have restrictions against bringing guns to places such as courthouses, bars, churches and schools.
“I’ve always been a firm believer in our right to defend ourselves in the home or on the street, but I’m not sure if adding guns to the street is the answer,” state Senator John Mulroe (D-10) said. “I know that in some areas where more violence occurs, someone might want a gun for protection. We have to make sure that we have proper restrictions in place, though all the restrictions in the world can’t prevent awful things from happening.”
Mulroe referred to the Dec. 14 mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., in which a 20-year-old man fatally shot 20 children and six adults before committing suicide. “We see more and more of these shootings,” he said. “At the very least we might be able to limit where you can have a gun and who can carry one.”
Mulroe also said that he would like to see some form of psychological testing as part of the licensing process. “If we try to do this, we need to make sure that anybody who gets a permit doesn’t have mental health issues,” he said. “Every year or two you should have to get reevaluated and there should be costs attached to getting a permit.”
State Representative Michael McAuliffe (R-20) said that he expects several versions of a concealed-carry bill to be presented. “The court gave us 180 days to pass a concealed-carry bill,” McAuliffe said. “If we don’t, anyone will be able to walk right down Michigan Avenue carrying whatever they want and we won’t be able to do anything about it.”
McAuliffe said that he is in favor of a permitting process that includes background checks and training for people who want to carry a concealed firearm, and that there should be a way to make sure that applicants understand the state’s guidelines for gun ownership.
“At the minimum, you have to have a background check so you can look for anyone that’s a criminal or who could be a risk to public safety,” McAuliffe said. “We would not want anyone with a compliance issue or who is a risk to society to wind up with the ability to carry a concealed weapon.”
McAuliffe said that a ban on assault weapons could be part of the concealed weapons legislation. “Part of that issue is how do you define an automatic weapon, but right now we need some kind of concealed-weapons bill drawn up,” McAuliffe said. “It may take several votes before we can pass something, but hopefully we’ll be able to have something in place that is constitutional.”
State Senator Iris Martinez (D-20) said that she opposes guns but that she understands the desire to protect oneself. “I understand having a gun at home,” Martinez said. “People want to be able to defend themselves at home, but in Chicago, it’s bigger than that. You put guns on the street, and law enforcement will have to treat every person they pull over like they’re carrying a gun.”
Martinez said that she is not sure how effective restrictions would be in protecting the public. “You could be the sanest person in the world, but you might blow up or something,” she said. “You might snap and go out and do something crazy. I don’t know if having a gun is an answer.”
Martinez said that lawmakers should address the issue of assault weapons before taking up concealed-weapons legislation. “We’re still afraid to go outside our own homes because of the violence,” she said. “We don’t live in a war zone. There’s no need for anyone to have an assault weapon. We need to have a real, honest debate, especially considering the violence that has happened in Illinois.”
State Representative Greg Harris (D-13) said that the court ruling gives lawmakers room to make some restrictions. “I think the court makes it clear that there are places where a weapon should not be brought, like schools, churches and parks,” Harris said. “I think there should be a way for us to make sure that weapons are kept out of those places.”
Harris also said that a ban on assault weapons should be considered. “These are weapons of mass murder,” he said. “That’s what they’re made for. Why would anyone need a machine gun?”
State Senator Ira Silverstein (D-8) said that the court’s ruling disappointed him but that lawmakers are prepared to put together a bill.
“We’re looking at what other states do and what requirements and restrictions they have in place,” Silverstein said. “With the concerns that everyone has, I think it will be a very tightly written bill, considering the incident in Newtown.”
Silverstein said that he is concerned about how many guns a person could possess. “An assault weapons ban is absolutely necessary,” he said. “Maybe we could look at limiting the number of guns a person can buy. We could possibly do a deeper background check for gun buyers.
Whatever we do, we’ll be working with Mayor Emanuel’s office and the Chicago Police Department to craft legislation that includes safeguards for the public.”
State Representative Louis Lang (D-16) said that he does not agree with the court’s ruling.
“What I took away from it was that the judge who wrote he majority opinion was saying that Illinois should do what other states are doing simply because other states are doing it,” Lang said. “This logic is faulty and dangerous. If that were the case, no state could ever do anything creative or unique to solve any sort of problem.”
Lang said that the ruling gives lawmakers a chance to review the state’s gun laws and to decide what changes need to be made.
“I haven’t heard any specifics,” Lang said. “It’s too early for that. A lot of people have been giving this considerable thought.’
This is something that’s going to evolve over many months. I’m prepared to give gun owners what the Constitution orders, but we need to put restrictions in place alongside any concealed-carry law.”