Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Monday August 12th, 2013, 2:28pm

Sens. Biss, Raoul Talk Concealed Carry At Evanston Town Hall Meeting

Although Illinois has enacted concealed carry legislation, the gun policy debate is far from over in the state, Sens. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) and Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) stressed at a town hall meeting Sunday.

“This book is still open,” Biss told about 100 people at the Evanston meeting. “This was a big, complicated negotiation that I think literally nobody was perfectly happy with. People are going to come back. People are going to try to make changes ... People are moderating, evaluating and moving forward.”

The 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals struck down Illinois’ last-in-the-nation concealed carry ban back in December. Illinois lawmakers were handed a July 9 deadline, after being granted a one-month extension, to put new legislation legalizing concealed carry on the books.

The Illinois General Assembly approved concealed carry legislation, HB 183, the last day of the spring legislative session on May 31.

In attempts to make the bill stronger, Gov. Pat Quinn issued an amendatory veto to the bill on July 2 that included a number of additional provisions.

But both the Senate and House voted to override Quinn’s proposed changes on July 9, just hours before the concealed carry ban was to be lifted. If legislation was not in place by the deadline, "constitutional carry" would have kicked in, meaning residents could have openly carried weapons anywhere in the state with little restrictions.

As part of the final measure that was approved, 16 hours of training are required before a concealed carry permit can be issued. The Illinois State Police is tasked with approving what the training will include. Under the new law, the Illinois State Police has 180 days to establish an application program and another 90 days to process new applications before issuing permits.

Individuals with a concealed carry permit cannot bring weapons on public transportation and in casinos, government buildings and stadiums. Permit holders can carry in restaurants and bars, but only in establishments with less than half of their sales going toward alcohol.

Private businesses are allowed to post a sign, however, that renders the business a no weapons zone.

Firearms are also allowed in cars. There is a “safe harbor” rule in the law that allows permit holders to walk outside of their car to their trunk to safely store their gun while they are in parking lots of places that prohibit concealed carry. 

The measure also gave local municipalities until July 19 to passed new or updated legislation that would ban or regulate assault weapons, which the Chicago City Council did last month.

The final concealed carry measure came out of months of debate and negotiations.

Following the court's December ruling, Raoul was tasked with leading the effort in the Senate to develop a negotiated and responsible concealed carry proposal.

Raoul’s concealed carry legislation, which was filed in February, somewhat modeled New York’s concealed carry bill and would have allowed high-density municipalities like the city of Chicago to have their police superintendent review permit applications and make final judgments. The bill would have allowed firearm laws, like Chicago’s assault weapons ban, to stay on the books or be added by municipalities.  In contrast, the bill that the House was originally considering, SB 2193, would have made it illegal for municipalities to pass laws that control how guns are carried in their communities.

Raoul’s bill, which had other more aggressive protections than the current law, passed out of committee in the Senate on May 28, but the senator never called it for a vote.

Raoul said he had secured 31 votes for the bill, but then Springfield politics “reared its ugly head”. Just before Raoul was slated to call the bill for a vote, he witnessed some senators being called out of the chamber. When they walked back in, Raoul could tell votes were being pulled off of the bill, he said.

“We were in a situation where I ended up not calling the bill, because moments before I called the bill, I was informed by a couple colleagues that they could no longer vote for the bill,” Raoul said. “It was a very frustrating moment after the work that had been put together to negotiate the bill.”

The House passed its controversial version of a concealed carry bill, SB 2193, introduced by State Rep. Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg), on May 24. The bill received fierce opposition from Quinn, Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other lawmakers, including Raoul.

After the House passed its measure, the two chambers were at a stalemate and decided “we’re just going to stare each other down,” Raoul explained.

In the final two days of the legislative session, which ended May 31, Raoul said the backers of the House bill indicated that they were willing to negotiate in an effort to hash out a compromise bill.  

Raoul called the negotiations "very interesting." Out of the 15 legislators in the room, 14 were on one side of the table while Raoul was alone on the other side, he noted.

“In the end, we ended up with an imperfect product in the view of folks on both sides,” Raoul said. “When you have such an issue that is so polarized in its debate, the likelihood is that’s what you end up with unless you have an overwhelming majority of folks in both chambers as well as the executive seat on one side of the debate.”

One audience member asked the panelists why Attorney General Lisa Madigan did not appeal the circuit court's ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. Madigan had until July 22, after being granted a second extension, to appeal. Raoul said although he cannot speak for the attorney general, there was "a lot of pressure from other areas" not to appeal the decision "for fear of where the Supreme Court may reach next."

Denyse Stoneback with People for a Safer Society told the senators at the meeting that it was frustrating to see both chambers override Quinn’s nine changes to the bill, which she said would have improved public safety in Illinois “unquestionably.”

“I think a lot of people realize concealed carry has come to Illinois and [they] are not happy about it. I’m certainly not happy about it, but I did speak my peace beforehand,” Stoneback said in remarks after the meeting. “If everybody who is opposing concealed carry made a greater voice before the vote, maybe things would change. As [the senators] say, it’s an open book. We can still change things, and that’s optimistic.”

One of Quinn’s proposed changes included preventing guns from being brought into establishments that serve any alcohol. He also wanted weapons to be fully concealed. (The current bill allows guns to be mostly concealed).

Raoul said the governor has the “luxury” to act “ignorant of the negotiations that took place in the months prior to the amendatory veto and come in and say, 'If I had a chance to partake in it, I would have done this.'”

“Well you did have a chance to partake in it, and you did partake in it, and those things fell,” Raoul noted.

During the veto override, the Senate approved three tweaks to the bill involving signage and mental health reporting that also looked to make the final measure stronger, but the House rejected them. The Senate amendments also would have required people with concealed carry permits to let police know if they are carrying a weapon during a stop or detention.

Colleen Daley, executive director of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence and a panelist at the town hall meeting, said state and municipal legislation has been introduced following the July 9 deadline in an effort to make concealed carry in Illinois safer.

State Sen. Dan Kotowski (D-Park Ridge), for example, introduced an amendment on July 15 to remove churches from the list of places where concealed guns can be carried legally.

Raoul said he supports banning concealed weapons in churches but added he is doubtful that the measure would pass, seeing as though Illinois' concealed carry ruling stemmed from a case involving a violent attack in a church.

But Daley said she "respectfully" disagreed with Raoul.

"I do think it's something that would be put up on the board [for a vote] if people actually do get places of worship to reach out to their legislators," Daley said.

The city of Chicago also moved a measure out of committee, Daley said, that would require those with a liquor license in the city to post a no gun sign as a “back way” of banning concealed weapons in places that serve any alcohol.

Concealed carry is a "tough and emotional" issue on all sides, Biss noted. But those who want to see more changes to the bill need to re-energize their organizing efforts, he added.

“Everyone who cares passionately about the outcome of those future changes that will happen with this law needs to be working hard on the neighborhood level and working hard across the state and communicating with legislators to ensure that their point of view is heard for real,” Biss said.

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