Legislators prepare for potential concealed carry vote

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Next month, the Illinois House could revisit House Bill 148, seeking to bring the state in line with all 49 others with a law giving citizens some form of concealed possession of a handgun.

Next month, the Illinois House could revisit House Bill 148, seeking to bring the state in line with all 49 others with a law giving citizens some form of concealed possession of a handgun.

The idea of being able to legally carry a handgun is OK with William Bradley – on the one hand.

The 68-year-old retiree wants to be able to walk out of the Chatham home where he and his wife reside, without fear for his personal safety. Right now, he said he doesn’t have that comfort.

“When I walk out of my front door right now, I poke my head out my door looking for somebody standing around, and that’s not the way you should live,” he told the Defender following a community forum Aug. 31 at WVON-AM headquarters. The forum was hosted by groups who were outspoken in their support for concealed carry legislation as a Constitutional right.

Bradley, like most at the meeting, wants to be able to protect himself against criminals.

“If I had a way of protecting myself … these criminal types would be less inclined to be stalking around and just walking up on you,” he said.

But on the other hand, he doesn’t want to see more armed – legally or illegally – citizens.

State Rep. Marlow Colvin, D-33rd Dist., heard from Bradley and others who expressed fear of being out-gunned by criminals and feel that they aren’t protected by police they called over-worked on a forced stretched thin.

Colvin voted against HB 148 earlier this year, but in case it comes up again during the House veto session next month, he said he is dropping in on meetings like the one at WVON, talking to his constituents and doing his own research. It could change his vote.

At the end of October, state Rep. Brandon Phelps could bring the measure for a vote again, and is reportedly working to garner veto-proof majority support.

Gov. Pat Quinn previously put lawmakers on notice that he would veto concealed carry legislation.

The bill, also known as the Family and Personal Protection Act, would allow 21 and older Illinoisans who have a valid Firearm Owners Identification Card to pay a $100 fee to obtain a license issued by the state police that allows them to carry a handgun on them or in their car that is completely or “mostly” concealed from view. Felons, people with some misdemeanor drug convictions, those with some driving under the influence convictions, people declared to have mental illness and others would not qualify for a license, according to the current version of the bill.

While opponents cite studies showing that more guns on the street could lead to more gun violence, backers of concealed carry cite studies that say the opposite is true.

Colvin said at the forum that he didn’t support HB 148 because, in its current form, it is “flawed” legislation. He told the Defender after the meeting at WVON that the bill could be “great” in some other areas of the state but he is “not sure” if a law that legally arms some citizens would work in places like Chicago and Cook County.

“I think most people see it as a proliferation of guns in Chicago, and they can’t get beyond that,” Colvin said. “Do I believe flat out will a gun make you safer? No, I don’t. Not safer. Will it put you in a position to respond to violence? Perhaps.”

But Gerald Vernon, one of the panelists at the forum and a representative of the pro-handgun organization IllinoisCarry.com, offers an emphatic yes.

He is sure that “realistically, yes, a gun is needed for self-defense.”

Like most of the vocal proponents of a concealed carry law who were hardly shy about making their case for allowing “law-abiding citizens” to be strapped, at their own discretion, Vernon said more than fear of being a defenseless victim of crime, some Illinoisans should be able to carry a gun because it is “God-given right that can’t nobody legislate.”

Chicago has been an anti-handgun metropolis since the 1960s when the City Council outlawed the sale of handguns within the city limits (1968), and then a decade later (1982) banned the possession of the firearms.

Last year, a U.S. Supreme Court decision overruled the city’s handgun ban, saying it violated the 2nd Amendment which says the “right to bear arms shall not be infringed.”

One of the most vocal opponents of concealed carry laws has been former Mayor Richard Daley. Daley told lawmakers last March that a state concealed carry law would usurp the responsibilities of local governments. He said any legislation should allow Chicago to opt out of the law. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has also argued against the legislation.

Colvin’s colleague in the Illinois House, LaShawn K. Ford, held a town hall meeting the same night, on the same subject. The West Side meeting drew Rev. Michael Pfleger, who has marched against guns and violence committed against youth.

“If the NRA (National Rifle Association) and the gun pushers are serious about responsible gun ownership, why do they fight us trying to close the loopholes and title guns just like cars?” Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina Catholic Church questioned.

“The answer is because the number one consumer of guns is the criminal and stopping easy access means making less money. Their motive has always been money at the cost of our children’s lives.”

Annette Nance-Holt, who lost her only son Blair to a gunman’s bullet in May 2007 on a Chicago Transit Authority bus, was at the West Side meeting.She does not favor concealed carry legislation.

Ford told the Defender that the May vote on HB 148 came up so quickly in the House

that he didn’t have time to sort things out before casting his vote. He voted “present” then and is now listening to his constituents in case the legislation is revived.

“This bill is not easy to decide,” Ford said. “There is a strong force against it and there’s a strong force for it.” He said he has heard the pro-rights groups push for concealed carry for those groups’ own reasons – mostly due to Constitutional rights. And he has heard the fears of others that the legislation would do the opposite of what they want done – get guns off the street.

But Ford said the whole to-carry-or-not-to-carry debate is “misfocused.” He said that gun violence, in general, and especially in urban communities, is a result of “social injustice” that has put people “in predicaments that they should not be in in America” in this day and age. Ford said people need jobs and education.

Chinta Strausberg contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 Chicago Defender

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