QUINCY -- The Fraternal Order of Eagles hall on North Fifth Street was packed Saturday with a crowd of people concerned about protecting their Second Amendment right to bear arms.
The occasion was a "town hall" hosted by the Illinois State Rifle Association -- one of about 30 such sessions taking place across the state to inform gun owners about perceived threats to their right to own, carry, use and sell firearms.
"We're here to rally the gun owners in this part of the state," explained Richard Pearson, the ISRA's executive director, who presided over Saturday's session.
In an interview, Pearson said ISRA representatives are going around the state trying to encourage gun owners to take a more active role in speaking out against legislation aimed at restricting gun rights.
"We're very upset with some of the firearm laws that are being proposed in the state," he said. "They're totally unfair to the law-abiding citizens of the state. We want the law-abiding citizens to start standing up for their rights."
Pearson said ISRA has five lobbyists, including himself, who are monitoring the Illinois General Assembly to help prevent the passage of bills that would restrict the rights of gun owners.
"We're following 127 gun bills in Springfield right now, most of them bad," he said. "We've always depended on lawmakers to do the right thing, but we found out that lawmakers don't always do the right thing. So we have to be there."
William Potts Jr., coordinator of the ISRA's "Sight" program, which encourages ISRA members to conduct face-to-face meetings with their local legislators, is one of the lobbyists keeping a close watch on what happens in Springfield.
Potts told the audience that ISRA lost a friend when former Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, failed in his quest to win re-election in November to Democrat J.B. Pritzker. Rauner, he said, always was ready to veto any bill that would adversely impact the rights of gun owners.
"We basically lost our backstop. We don't have that anymore," Potts said. The Democrat-controlled House and Senate "have the numbers to pass any legislation they want," he said. "They can do anything they want to us at any time."
Potts called upon gun owners to take a more active role in contacting their legislators to let them know how they feel about any proposed anti-gun legislation that surfaces.
"We want to let these people know who we are," Potts said. "We're the most law-abiding citizens in the state of Illinois. Why should they be coming after us?"
Since 2006, Pearson said, ISRA has taken a more active role in initiating litigation to fight gun restrictions. "We have won 13 cases against the government since then and have no losses yet," he said.
One of ISRA's successful lawsuits, he said, forced the state to allow the concealed carry law to go into effect.
Another ISRA lawsuit still under way -- Wilson v. Cook County -- is seeking to overturn Cook County's wide-ranging ban on assault weapons and multi-shot magazines. He said this case could ultimately reach the U.S. Supreme Court.
"If that case is upheld, that will affect every jurisdiction in the United States," he said.
Pearson said ISRA is determined to keep fighting for gun owners' rights.
"We're not going to stop," he said. "Politicians that want to take your guns are never going to go away."
Among those attending Saturday's town hall was Rex Winn of Quincy, who showed up with a group of like-minded friends all interested in preserving and protecting their gun rights.
"A bunch of us decided to come because the pro-gunners need to get together and let people know what we're out here, too," Winn said.