By DOUG WILSON
Herald-Whig Senior Writer
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- A record crowd attended the Illinois Gun Owners Lobby Day event Wednesday, energized about concealed-carry legislation that is up for consideration in the General Assembly.
"We know there's going to be some kind of carry bill. We just want to make sure we don't get a bad bill," said Mike Schuttler of Quincy.
Illinois is the only state in the nation without any option to carry a concealed weapon for self-defense. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that the state was in violation of the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment and ordered the Legislature to draft a concealed-carry law. If that does not happen by June 9, the court will draft rules.
Adams County Board Member John Brady, R-6, attended his first Gun Owners Lobby Day at the Prairie Capital Convention Center. He was impressed with the attendance of perhaps 8,000 people but expected to see the strong support for gun owners' rights. Brady was the author of an advisory ballot issue on concealed carry that passed with 77 percent support in Adams County last year.
"The Second Amendment was the original Homeland Security. The right to bear arms and the right to self-defense is ... in the Constitution. Chicago is just holding the rest of the state hostage," Brady said.
While surveys show that most Chicago residents oppose concealed firearms, the Gun Owners Lobby Day crowd made it clear that the sentiment is not unanimous.
At least 11 buses from north of Interstate 80 that were not able to come to the capital because of the weather. A lot of the gun owners who had signed up to take those buses made the drive in their personal vehicles.
"There was a tremendous amount of the crowd from up in the Chicago area," said Glenn Sanders, a retired conservation sergeant from Adams County. "Down in our area, a lot of the hunters take their gun rights for granted. The people up there are not taking it for granted."
In fact, people from all over the state are taking a new interest in gun ownership. Illinois State Police report there were 61,000 new Firearm Owners Identification card requests last month. The FOID requests have been setting records each month.
Gun Owners Lobby Day is an annual event. More than two dozen Adams County residents attended this year.
Participants got a compliment from capitol police for being "one of the largest crowds, but also the most polite and well-ordered crowds."
"I think there's a lot of momentum" for concealed carry, Ron Kooken of Quincy said.
Kooken fears that one of the shell bills put forward by Speaker Mike Madigan will confuse the issue. He and others attending Gun Owners Lobby Day support House Bill 997, sponsored by state Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg. It would not allow firearms in schools, day care centers and some other locations. Kooken said some of the shell bills say firearms are not allowed "near" schools or day care centers, which is too vague for legal standards.
"They're using these straw bills so that Republicans will vote against them, and that can be used against them in the next election," Kooken said.
Sanders wants to see the state focus more effort on reporting people with mental health issues who should not have access to guns.