Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) speaks to lawmakers during a Senate Executive Committee hearing on concealed-carry legislation Thursday. Under Raoul's bill, those wanting to carry a gun in Chicago would need permission from city police. Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), left, looks on. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
SPRINGFIELD-Favored by gun-control advocates, a push establishing tight limits on where Illinois gun owners could carry their weapons in public advanced in the state Senate Thursday over objections from the National Rifle Association.
The measure, which passed the Senate Executive Committee by a 10-4 vote, with one member voting present, surfaced less than a month before a June 9 deadline imposed by a federal appeals court for Illinois to end its last-in-the-nation prohibition on concealed-carry.
"I'm trying to do something to respond to the mandate of the court to promote and preserve public safety and to balance the rights of the law-abiding gun owners in the process," state Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago), the bill's chief Senate sponsor, told the panel.
Within Chicago, Raoul's legislation would require police Supt. Garry McCarthy to sign off on all concealed-carry applicants before they could get permits from the Illinois State Police, setting up what gun-rights advocates fear would be a choke-point that could keep city gun owners from getting licenses.
"I can see Garry McCarthy abusing the snot out of that," said National Rifle Association lobbyist Todd Vandermyde, who opposed the legislation.
Vandermyde insisted the bill wasn't crafted to meet the requirements of the December federal appeals court ruling that tossed Illinois' last-in-the-nation prohibition on concealed-carry but rather an effort to keep Illinois gun owners from exercising their Second Amendment rights.
"In our eyes, this is not a carry bill," Vandermyde told the committee. "This is a bill to discourage people and prevent people from carrying a firearm and exercising their constitutional, fundamental right to keep and bear arms for self-defense in public. We can put lipstick on a pig and it's still a pig, and that's what this is."
Raoul's bill, which could be voted on by the Senate Friday, also would permit Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and other sheriffs to lodge objections to any concealed-carry applicants that the State Police would have to consider along with 17 other qualifying hurdles.
Among those requirements are the broad standards of whether an applicant demonstrates "good moral character" and whether the issuance of a concealed-carry license to that person is "consistent with public safety."
One legislative critic said that standard is too vague.
"Is it the guy didn't go to enough [of his kids'] softball games when they were high-schoolers or grade-schoolers, someone who drank too much, didn't spend enough time at home, stole supplies from the office and didn't get caught. What are you looking for?" asked state Sen. Dale Righter (R-Charleston).
"In an investigation of an application, there probably are some occurances and something that could be indicative of character that would be a threat to public safety that I can't imagine as I sit here," answered Raoul, who said that particular language was patterned after Indiana's concealed-carry statute.
Backed by Gov. Pat Quinn and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Raoul's measure would prohibit anyone with concealed-carry permits from going into government buildings, bars, public-transit trains and buses, airports, schools, day-care centers, hospitals, sports arenas and stadiums and university property, among other places.
The legislation, House Bill 183, also would let home-rule communities across the state, like Chicago, Oak Park and more than 200 other municipalities, set even tighter limitations on where concealed weapons would be allowed.
Opponents argued that different, town-by-town, concealed-carry regulations would pose a hardship to gun owners and could turn some unwittingly into lawbreakers.
"What troubles me about it, in particular, is the notion of this sort of patchwork from town to town," said Sen. Matt Murphy (R-Palatine). "I'm picturing a constituent coming down to visit me from Palatine, driving down I-55, and they have a concealed-carry permit. Do they have to do their homework along the way from town to town of what restrictions there are if they want to get off and go to my favorite diner in Dwight?
"Don't they have to know town by town what the restrictions are, and isn't that a potentially undue burden on them to exercise that right that the 7th circuit has reiterated flows to them from the Second Amendment?" Murphy said.
But Raoul defended the approach and predicted there would not be a "mad rush" of municipalities adopting their own standards.
"We tried to develop a pretty exhaustive list of what we'd think would be sensitive places within any municipality," he said. "As good as we think we are, there may be something unique to a particular municipality."
After Thursday's committee vote, Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) said the concealed-carry legislation could surface for a floor vote as early as Friday, but the top Senate Democrat stopped short of predicting its passage.
"It's pretty close," Cullerton said.