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Concealed-carry stalemate deepens as House rejects NRA-backed plan
Illinois Rep. Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg), lead sponsor of concealed-carry legislation that failed Thursday, speaks to lawmakers while on the House floor during session at the Illinois State Capitol. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
With reporting by Natasha Korecki and Zach Buchheit
SPRINGFIELD-Legislation backed by gun-rights advocates that would allow Illinoisans to carry concealed weapons went down Thursday in the House, leaving the spring legislative debate over concealed-carry at a stalemate.
Legislation backed by the National Rifle Association and pushed by Rep. Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg) failed on a 64-45 roll call, with four voting present. The bill needed 71 votes to pass the House.
“This could be our last chance to pass something by June 9th,” Phelps said, referring to the federal appeals court deadline imposed on Illinois to pass a concealed-carry law.
Coming up with a concealed-carry law has been one of this spring’s dominant legislative issues after the appeals court last December tossed Illinois’ outright prohibition on gun owners carrying their weapons in public. Illinois and the District of Columbia are the only places in America without a concealed-carry law.
Phelps, who kept the failed legislation alive through a parliamentary maneuver, and other supporters described his legislation as the strictest concealed-carry rules in the country, where 49 other states already permit their residents to carry guns outside their homes.
“The bad guys already have the guns,” Phelps argued. “We’re setting up the parameters…to make sure the good guys have the guns.”
Under his plan, gun owners couldn’t take their weapons into a litany of public places, including government buildings, bars, casinos, arenas, college campuses and airports. Phelps’ bill would permit passengers on Chicago-area public transportation to carry their weapons.
To get a concealed-carry permit, a gun owner would have to undergo training and hold a valid Firearms Owners Identification Card but couldn’t be subject to any pending criminal actions or be a habitual user of alcoholic beverages with two more DUIs within a three-year period.
Supporters said the law would enhance public safety and noted how Chicago’s strict handgun laws, which once mandated an outright ban on ownership, have been a complete failure in reducing crime.
“Ladies and gentlemen, since 2001, more than 2,000 U.S. troops have been killed in Afghanistan,” said Rep. Jerry Costello II, one of the bill’s co-sponsors. “During that same time, more than 5,000 people have been killed in the city of Chicago. Chicago’s murder rate is quadruple New York’s, and it’s double Los Angeles’.
“The guns laws in Chicago, the tight guns laws, do not work, and the statistics prove that,” Costello said.
But critics, including several key Chicago-area lawmakers, said allowing armed gun owners to go legally onto the city’s streets isn’t the answer to Chicago’s murder epidemic.
“I grew up in an area where hunting is a very popular pastime,” said Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago), who voted against the bill. “The only hunting that’s happening in my neighborhood is of young men. More guns aren’t the answer to our gun problem in Chicago.”
Rep. Will Davis (D-Homewood) took that point a step farther, predicting the bill would worsen violent crime in the city and across the state.
“I just think this is going way too far, way too far. And I hate to say it, but I think this will actually get worse in our state before it gets better,” he said.
“I hope we’re willing to stand up and give moments of silence to all the individuals who’ll probably get harmed by this open and unabridged conceal and carry we’ll have in the state of Illinois,” Davis said, referring to the solemn tributes the House has been known to give to high-profile victims of crime.
Thursday’s outcome represented a setback for gun-rights advocates because the vote total in support actually was less than during two previous tries. In May 2011, an earlier version also needing 71 votes to pass the House failed by a 65-32 vote. And in February, during a test vote, another version drew a 67-48 roll call.
The vote follows Wednesday’s defeat of a concealed-carry bill drafted by gun-control advocates and sponsored by Cassidy that would have made it far more difficult for gun owners to get concealed-carry permits . Patterned after a restrictive New York concealed-carry law upheld this week by the U.S. Supreme Court, Cassidy’s legislation failed by a 31-76 vote in the House, with six voting present.
That means neither side of the gun-control debate in Springfield has enough backing to push through their own version. That stalemate casts significant doubts on how — or whether — gun-rights and gun-control advocates can reach a compromise to meet the June 9th deadline established by the federal appeals court.
So what now?
“I don’t know,” said Todd Vandermyde, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association. “Right now, we’re going to have to step back and see what the roll call looked like. We had more people telling us that they were inclined to vote for this version with some changes that there were. Obviously, we made movements, and I don’t know what else to say.”