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Raoul seeks 'middle ground' with new concealed-carry plans

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CLOSER_LOOK_CONCEALED_CARRY_38807911.JPGSen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago), pictured on the right earlier this month on the House floor with Rep. Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg), outlined new plans Monday for "reasonable middle ground" in Springfield's stalemated concealed-carry debate. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)

SPRINGFIELD-Seeking "reasonable middle ground," the Senate's Democratic point man on guns moved Monday to break the concealed-carry stalemate by proposing to streamline the licensing process and letting home-rule governments decide where guns can be carried openly.

State Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) said that he is prepared to scale back the authority of Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy and Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart to block the granting of concealed-carry permits to gun owners they deem unfit.

The senator from Hyde Park/Kenwood, who is considering a 2014 run for attorney general, also wants to give home-rule communities across the state more power to determine where those carrying concealed weapons could legally go.

"What I'm trying to do this week is to create a set of options to try to create some compromise options for legislators to evaluate and for the city and county to evaluate," Raoul told the Chicago Sun-Times.

The General Assembly and Gov. Pat Quinn face a June 9 deadline imposed by a federal appeals court in Chicago to come up with law that permits Illinoisans to carry concealed weapons. Last December, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the state's prohibition on carrying weapons, the only outright prohibition of its kind by a state.

Under draft legislation Raoul floated last week that got torpedoed during Senate Democratic and Republican closed-door caucus meetings, McCarthy and Dart could act as chokepoints in a two-tier licensing process for concealed-carry applicants. They could dictate to the Illinois State Police which gun owners, if any, would be permitted to carry openly in Chicago and Cook County.

But now, in a bow to gun-rights groups, Raoul said Monday he plans to virtually eliminate Dart and McCarthy in the approval process and put the licensing of concealed-carry applicants entirely in the hands of the Illinois State Police.

The city police superintendent or Cook County sheriff - or perhaps both -- would be given access to background checks that would be performed on gun owners seeking concealed-carry permits. They would be allowed only to weigh in with the State Police on an advisory basis if they believe a concealed-carry applicant is unfit, Raoul said.

"If it were binding," Raoul said of the city and county input, "it would be no different than what we had last week."

He also plans to propose giving home-rule governments like Chicago, Oak Park or Highland Park the ability to impose broader prohibitions on where gun-owners with concealed-carry permits can bring their weapons, a concept for which Quinn has shown support.

"If we give one overall state license, to what extent can we respect the fact municipalities still have their particular sensitivities and give them the ability to create a unique set of prohibitions in terms of where you can bring your weapon? This is something that is controversial because people fear there'll be a patchwork of different laws all over the state," Raoul said.

"But if you create an opt-in by a certain date, and then require the State Police to have a website or something...that may be a reasonable middle ground," he said.

Raoul and state Sen. Tim Bivins (R-Dixon) had hopes they could move a bi-partisan Senate plan to permit Illinois gun owners to carry their weapons in public. But that hope unraveled after Republicans and Democrats met behind closed doors last week to discuss a 128-page draft of the legislation.

"It's not breathing real well," Bivins said of the plan during an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times.

Bivins could not be reached Monday afternoon for comment on Raoul's latest proposals.

Their earlier plan would have created a two-tiered approval process in Chicago and Cook County that would have enabled McCarthy and Dart to create a virtual bottleneck in which only they could determine who, if any one, could get a concealed-carry permit in their areas.

If McCarthy and Dart signed off on a "certificate of qualification," the Illinois State Police would then have final authority to issue the permit.

Under their plan, gun owners also would have to be at least 21, possess a valid Firearms Owners Identification card and have a clean criminal record. Applicants would have to undergo fingerprinting and background checks and complete an eight-hour training session that would focus on marksmanship, gun care and cleaning and handgun safety.

Those granted permits under their plan would be barred from government buildings, bars, airports, schools, child-care centers, casinos, sports stadiums, hospitals and college campuses. Gun owners also would be barred from carrying their weapons aboard public transportation.

Bivins said the sentiment in his caucus is that Chicago and Cook County should abide by the same permitting standard as everywhere else in Illinois.

"To go anything beyond shall issue statewide becomes very contentious," Bivins said.

Where the process goes next, Bivins said, isn't clear.

"As far as Sen. Raoul and I are concerned, we've talked some and we'll continue our talks to see if anything else is acceptable. That was our charge, to grab something that might be acceptable, and so far we're not there," he said.

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