Senator Daniel Biss held an Aug. 11 meeting to address concerns about the newly enacted concealed-carry gun laws. Photo by Matt Simonette

A town hall meeting organized by State Senator Daniel Biss, D-9th, on Aug.11 at the Levy Center addressed concerns about the concealed-carry legislation that passed into law on July 9.

Illinois was for some time the only state without a law permitting the carrying of concealed firearms, but a ruling last December by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals of the 7th District mandated that the state put such a law into place.

Sen. Biss called the law “idiosyncratic,” since it led to the rare situation where a federal court dictated that a state law was to be created. “I know there’s a lot of anxieties and questions about the new law and what it does and doesn’t do,” he added.

Among Sen. Biss’ panelists was State Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-13th, a lead negotiator for Senate Democrats who worked with State Sen. Tim Nivins, R-45th, to reach an agreement on what would be contained in the law. Working with both a mandate and a deadline changed the nature of the negotiations, he admitted, with both sides being conscientious about not taking the bill to far-reaching and egregious extremes.

“The reality is, even those on that side realized it wasn’t beneficial to go ‘over the cliff,’” Sen. Raoul said. “That was not desirable by anyone on any side of the debate.”

He said that the final legislation was “an imperfect product in the view of both sides.” But it did include many precautionary measures, among them a 16-hour training session and a long list of settings in which concealed weapons were not permitted, among them schools, government buildings and mass transit.

Colleen Daley, executive director of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, said she had met with Sen. Raoul several times to offer input into the legislation.  “We looked at it as, ‘We have no choice,’” said Ms. Daley. “We wanted to be at the table, and wanted something that, while it respected people’s Second Amendment rights, also kept people safe.”

But her organization ultimately did not back the bill. “We felt it went a little bit too far,” she said. “The main reason was I was told all along that this was a concealed-carry bill, but the bill dealt with assault weapons.” The legislation forbade assault weapons bans if they had not been enacted within 10 days after its passage. Evanston passed such a ban July 15.

Marjorie Fujara, a pediatrician who represented Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said that no state had yet aggregated sufficient information on the effects of concealed-carry laws. While crime statistics exist on handgun violence, none yet measure incidents that have stemmed from concealed-carry permit holders.

“There is nobody who has collected information like how many people are injured, intentionally or unintentionally, or murdered as a result of carrying a concealed weapon in public,” Dr. Fujara said. “There is no database that any state has compiled with that information.”

Illinois’ concealed-carry law has no reciprocity, so gun-owners from other states will have to be properly licensed in order to carry a concealed weapon in Illinois. When asked how out-of-state visitors will be aware of that, Sen. Raoul said that authorities have to presume that citizens will keep informed of the law

“Everyone who takes the trouble to legally carry a concealed weapon is going to be aware of it,” added Evanston Township Republican Committeeman Blair Garber, who was in the audience.

Some in the audience questioned how it was that gun-control advocates seemed to have so little redress in the wake of the December decision. One audience member asked why Attorney General Lisa Madigan had not appealed the judgment.

Sen. Raoul speculated that the matter would have to have gone to the U.S. Supreme Court next, and many advocates feared that a ruling from a higher court might have undone more regulations. Ms. Daley concurred, adding that national groups had presented that scenario to her organization.

Ms. Daley said that “Illinois is not an anti-gun state – people love their guns,” but added that persons across the political spectrum were still concerned about gun-safety issues. She said just over 50 percent of residents her organization polled were against concealed carry.

Near the end of the session, Mr. Garber chided Sen. Biss about not having any gun rights advocates or supportive politicians on the panel.

“I think it would have been a better service here if we had at least one person who was in favor of this bill, or one person who is a FOID (Firearm Owner Identification) cardholder or knew something about firearms,” he said. “I just think it would have been a little more balanced if you had one person up there who didn’t share your view.”

Sen. Biss maintained that the forum was intended as an informational session and not a debate.

“This is a tough issue,” Sen. Biss said. “…[But] the vote is still open. People are going to try to make changes and push in one direction, and other people are going to try to push in a different direction. People are going to be monitoring and evaluating it going forward.”