By DOUG WILSON
Herald-Whig Senior Writer
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- State Rep. Jil Tracy was part of what she called a positive and civil committee hearing Tuesday on how Illinois should issue permits to people who wish to carry concealed weapons.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the state's ban on concealed firearms is unconstitutional. In a December ruling, the court gave the Legislature until June 9 to draft a concealed carry law. If lawmakers fail, the court will set up the state's rules.
Tracy, R-Quincy, said many of those testifying in front of the House Judiciary Committee talked past each other, rather than seeking a compromise.
"I didn't see that the two opposite factions understood each other," Tracy said.
Paul Castiglione of the Cook County state's attorney's office seemed to hint that the 7th Circuit ruling was "advisory" only and that Chicago officials might not allow people to carry firearms.
Tracy, an attorney, said the court clearly ruled against the ban on regulated, concealed firearms.
NRA lobbyist Todd Vandermyde welcomed fair and reasoned legislation, but said gun owners and people who want to protect their own lives are tired of hearing Gov. Pat Quinn and Chicago officials argue against any compromise.
"We went to court and we won," Vandermyde said.
Other supporters of concealed carry say handgun bans have not helped curtail crime in Chicago.
"We cannot ban violent criminals. We cannot ban mental illness," said Valinda Rowe of the pro-gun-rights group IllinoisCarry. "We can't keep drawing imaginary circles around our communities, around our schools, declaring that they are gun-free zones, and then pretending that the violent criminals and mentally deranged won't cross that line and harm our children."
Tracy said Chicago has the toughest gun laws in the nation, but has some of the worst gun violence because criminals are the only ones who are armed.
Illinois State Police would have to issue concealed carry permits under one bill under consideration in the General Assembly.
State Police Lt. Darrin Clark said the agency currently gets a $10 fee for issuing Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) cards that are valid for 10 years. The process calls for background checks through a federal database on crime and mental health issues. Clark said it now costs $12 to cover the expense of issuing those cards.
There are nearly 1.5 million FOID cardholders in the state and about 70,000 applications or reapplications each month.
Mary Kay Mace, mother of one of five students killed by Steven Kazmierczak at Northern Illinois University in 2008, asked that sheriffs' departments or other local authorities have a hand in issuing concealed carry permits.
"Many local law enforcement officials in smaller and rural areas know their citizens personally. These local officers are well aware of who stumbles out of the bar after having imbibed too much," Mace said.
"These local officers know which of their citizens is a hothead who menaces his or her spouse."
Tracy said the downstate House caucus was "rehashing" the committee testimony on Tuesday night. She said there are 28 Republican House members from downstate and 22 Democrats.
The Springfield hearing was called by House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago. Another hearing is set to gather gun safety feedback in Chicago on Friday.
The Associated Press provided information for this story.