By MATT HOPF
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
Area lawmakers say they are always asked the same question at every public forum:
“When will Illinois have concealed carry?”
That may no longer be the case after a federal appeals court on Tuesday struck down a ban on carrying concealed weapons in Illinois — the only state where it had remained entirely illegal. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said state lawmakers have 180 days to write a new law that legalizes concealed carry.
Gun rights advocates long have argued that the prohibition against concealed weapons violates the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment and what they see as Americans’ right to carry guns for self-defense. The court majority agreed, 2-1, reversing lower court rulings against a lawsuit that had challenged the state law.
Judge Richard Posner, author of the majority opinion, suggested that there was no excuse for the state not to join the rest of the nation when it comes to concealed weapons. He wrote, “There is no suggestion that some unique characteristic of criminal activity in Illinois justifies the state’s taking a different approach than the other 49 states.”
But the majority included the 180-day stay of its ruling to “allow the Illinois legislature to craft a new gun law that will impose reasonable limitations, consistent with the public safety and the Second Amendment as interpreted in this opinion, on the carrying of guns in public,” Posner wrote. The fight in the Legislature would be over what constitutes “reasonable limitations.”
State Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville, said concealed carry is “very important to my constituents.” He said the issue arose at a public event Monday that also was attended by Republican state Reps. Jil Tracy of Quincy and Norine Hammond of Macomb.
“I look forward to working with my colleagues to draft a law that finally respects Illinoisans’ Second Amendment rights and makes out state a safer place for law-abiding citizens,” Sullivan said.
The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed by former corrections officer Michael Moore of Champaign, farmer Charles Hooks of Percy in southeastern Illinois and the Bellevue, Wash.-based Second Amendment Foundation.
Support for concealed carry in West-Central Illinois has been strong. In November, 77 percent of Adams County voters supported a nonbinding referendum in support of concealed carry. Eighty-five percent of voters in Pike County supported a nonbinding referendum in support of constitutional carry in the March election.
Glenn Sanders, president of the Mississippi Valley Hunters and Fishermen’s Association, was happy with the ruling.
“I would just caution anybody that wishes to become a concealed carry permit holder to understand that is going to take a while,” he said. “It’s not going to be something that they are not going to be able to run right out and get the permit on. Whatever law they craft will have some type of training requirement in it, and some type of qualification system built into it.”
The leader of the Illinois State Rifle Association, Richard Pearson, praised the federal court’s decision and said the state could have a new concealed carry law by early next month. A bill has already been written by Rep. Brandon Phelps of Harrisburg that includes provisions for background checks, field provisions and other issues, Pearson said.
“Christmas came early for law-abiding gun owners,” said Phelps, whose proposed legislation came within three votes of passing in 2011.
“I said on the floor, ‘A lot of people who voted against this, one of these days, you’re going to wish you did, because of all the limitations and the safety precautions we put in this bill, because one of these days, the court’s going to rule and you’re not going to like the ruling.’ Today’s the day.”
One provision in Phelps’ bill that might be taken out is a requirement for concealed-carry training specific to Illinois residents, Pearson said. That requirement is far more rigorous than in some other states, including Arizona and Wyoming, which Pearson said have far less stringent training requirements.
Pearson said another possibility is requiring training from any NRA instructor, as some states require. “You get certified and you’re out the door,” he said.
There also is likely to be debate over where concealed weapons can be carried. For example, Wisconsin decided that gun permit holders cannot carry weapons in schools, police stations or courtrooms but can carry weapons into taverns if they aren’t drinking alcohol. Private property owners can ban weapons in their buildings if they see fit.
Tracy thinks lawmakers will work to pass legislation allowing concealed carry.
“I’m just going to go on the assumption that we will move full force ahead with their mandate to change the law,” she said. “We’re going to be back in Springfield on Jan. 3, and I’m sure Representative Phelps and myself will join on that bill together with a lot of others.”
Some gun control advocates believe their best chance is with the Supreme Court. It could be a long shot, given the court’s rulings in the last few years — one overturning Chicago’s 28-year-old handgun ban — that citizens have a Second Amendment right to have a gun for self-defense in their homes.
The dissenting judge, Ann Claire Williams, raised questions that could come up in a possible appeal or when lawmakers begin to debate and craft a new law addressing the issue.
After saying that “protecting the safety of its citizens is unquestionably a significant state interest,” Williams wrote, “when firearms are carried outside the home, the safety of a broader range of citizens is at issue. The risk of being injured or killed now extends to strangers, law enforcement personnel, and other private citizens who happen to be in the area.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Editor's note: This story has been updated since its original posting.