Chicago Sun-Times
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Madigan-backed concealed-carry bill passes panel, called an "overreach" by Quinn and Cullerton

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SPRINGFIELD-A quickly drafted House concealed-carry measure backed by House Speaker Michael Madigan passed a preliminary panel Thursday but was deemed an "overreach" by Gov. Pat Quinn and the Senate's top Democrat, citing key ideological differences.

The bill's sponsor, longtime gun-rights advocate Rep. Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg), defended his measure for more than an hour in front of the House Judiciary Committee who passed the measure along a 13-3 margin, setting it up for a full House vote expected as early as Friday.

The primary bone of contention for Quinn and many Chicago-area Democrats, the bill would not allow local municipalities to enact laws more restrictive than the provisions in Phelps' bill and would prohibit all current local ordinances, including Chicago's ban on assault weapons.

"We oppose this," Quinn spokesperson Brooke Anderson told the Sun-Times. "The legislation, as written, is a massive overreach that goes far beyond the concealed carry issue. The measure would repeal Chicago's assault weapons ban and put public safety at risk."

But Phelps fears allowing local municipalities to write their own laws would result in a kind of confusing 'patchwork' of rules.

"We just think it's making law-abiding gun owners criminals if you don't have one uniform law," Phelps told reporters. "That way everybody understands what to expect."

That part of the bill has long been a stringent requirement for any measure to get the backing of the National Rifle Association. However, the NRA did not testify at the committee hearing, a move many suspect to be orchestrated to gather support from trigger-wary Democrats in the Senate.

"I just think that this is the right thing to do," Phelps said. "You saw what happened today. The NRA is not going to support this bill. I mean, there's just no position."

But Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) has come out against the Madigan-backed bill because of its lack of local-control measures, saying it was clearly drafted with the NRA in mind.

"Having this in here, which is clearly by design of the NRA, hardens the Senate president's personal position against the legislation," Cullerton spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon said.

"We see that portion of the bill as an overreach. That portion aside, there are probably some areas the chambers could tweak and move forward," she said.

Phelon would not assess the legislation's chances of passing if it makes it over to the Senate. "I'll tell you it's a close vote," she said. Both Madigan (D-Chicago) and Phelps told the Sun-Times Wednesday they expect the bill to get the necessary 71 votes needed to pass the House.

The potential stalemate between the two chambers is troublesome because a federal court in December ordered the Legislature to pass a concealed-carry law by June 9 after the court struck down the state's last-in-the-nation prohibition against carrying guns in public.

"I hope the president really understands this bill and knows what would happen if we go off the cliff," Phelps said, referring to the June deadline. "No one does. There's too much uncertainty."

Several Chicago and Cook County agencies have yet to take a position on the bill, including the Chicago City Council, Cook County State's Attorney and the Cook County Sheriffs Department.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle opposes the legislation.

"We have consistently stated that Cook County and other densely populated areas are unique and should be able to craft laws to address the unique circumstances they face," Preckwinkle spokesperson Kristen Mack said.

The amendment to Senate Bill 2193, which Phelps said was drafted Wednesday afternoon, would prohibit gun owners from carrying their firearms in 22 different areas.

Madigan said every location the city of Chicago sought to ban guns was included in the measure, including government buildings, a "public gathering" like Taste of Chicago, parks and forest preserves, libraries and schools, including colleges and universities.

Gun-owners could not openly carry on public transit systems but would be able to store their loaded firearms in some sort of case or pack while they ride, Phelps said.

The "shall carry" concealed-carry measure would require state police to issue permits to applicants who pay the $150 in-state fee, complete 16 hours of training and undergo a background check, but it would grant any level of law enforcement the ability to object to any candidates deemed unfit.

A seven-member panel would be set up to adjudicate any rejected concealed-carry permits. The group would be appointed by the governor and approved by the Senate and would consist of a federal judge, two attorneys, three FBI agents and one mental health expert.

An Illinois State Police representative expressed opposition to the bill but said the group would be neutral if several minor, technical changes were made.

Some of those technical concerns include tweaking aspects of the bill's mental-health language and extending the time to review training curriculum required of permit-seekers. "Most of it we feel we can work through," State Police Lieutenant Darrin Clark said.

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