By DON BABWIN, Associated Press
CHICAGO (AP) — A federal court ruling tossing out Illinois' ban on concealed weapons might end the last such gun prohibition in the country, but not without a fight.
The question is whether the battle will be an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has been silent on the issue of concealed weapons, or a legislative confrontation over the court's order that Illinois adopt a law allowing concealed carry with "reasonable limitations" as in other states.
Gun control advocates urged Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to quickly appeal the ruling Tuesday by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that Illinois' ban is unconstitutional. Madigan's office said she is studying the issue. But the ban's defenders said they were more certain of fireworks over a second part of the ruling — an order for the Illinois Legislature to come up with a law legalizing the concealed carry of weapons within 180 days.
"I expect a battle," said House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, a longtime gun control advocate. "The proponents of concealed carry have not yet carried the day."
Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, an ardent gun control advocate who recently tried to revive a proposal for an assault weapons ban, said he will work with the General Assembly to fashion a bill that protects public safety. He said any law must include "reasonable restrictions," such as prohibiting people with a history of mental illness from carrying weapons.
He said he will leave the decision of whether to appeal to Madigan.
Exultant gun rights advocates, who long have argued that the Illinois ban violates the Second Amendment, couldn't agree less. They celebrated the ruling as a major victory in their campaign to make Illinois and its ban the center of the national debate over gun control after Wisconsin tossed out its own ban on concealed carry last year.
The gun rights backers interpreted the 2-1 appellate court ruling as a mandate instructing lawmakers to pass a bill allowing citizens to carry concealed weapons in public with few if any restrictions. Todd Vandermyde, a National Rifle Association lobbyist, said gun control advocates could forget any limits such as partial bans near places such as day care centers and schools.
"It's over for them. They have no stroke in this game, they have no negotiating power," Vandermyde said. "When you start drawing circles around all those places — day care centers, schools and parks — that's a ban and they don't get a ban. They lost."
State Rep. Brandon Phelps, who sponsored a restrictive concealed carry bill last year that lost by the slimmest of margins, said gun control advocates are not going to like the next bill they see on the floor of the General Assembly.
Richard Pearson, the executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, said lawmakers could quickly pass the Phelps bill when they reconvene the first week of January. The bill, he said, "contains all the things — background checks, classroom time — that all the parties wanted, so it's ready to go." But that's not to say all those provisions will be in the bill this time around, he said.
"We bent over backwards before and tried to accommodate everybody, and they just threw it in the garbage," Pearson said. "Maybe we won't be so accommodating now."
Several members of the Chicago City Council said Wednesday they hope Madigan will appeal the ruling. However, that may be a long shot given the Supreme Court's recent history that includes striking down Chicago's handgun ban. They also said the city has the authority to ban or restrict concealed weapons.
Alderman Howard Brookins disagreed. He said the court's decision means law-abiding citizens "who jump through the hoops" will be able to protect themselves.
Judge Richard Posner wrote in the majority appellate opinion that Illinois doesn't have "some unique characteristic of criminal activity" that provides an excuse for not joining the rest of the nation when it comes to concealed weapons.