Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Is this the year when Illinois becomes the last of the 50 states to allow adults to carry firearms in most public settings?

Supporters of the idea are optimistic. Legislation moving through the General Assembly calls for sheriff's departments to issue licenses to qualifying citizens permitting them to carry concealed guns, and backers offer five reasons why prospects for this perennial idea have never been better.

1. The tide of history

1986gun Twenty-five years ago, our prohibition was mainstream law in the heartland. Ohio, Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas and Nebraska were among more than a dozen states (in red, right) that didn't issue concealed-carry licenses, according to historical charts generated by, a site that tracks such things. Only eight states were so-called shall-issue jurisdictions (blue), where citizens who met certain qualifications were automatically eligible to get such licenses.

Now (left), 37 states are "shall issue," another eight are "may issue," (yellow)where licensing authorities have discretion over which qualifying persons get a license, three have no restrictions (green) and Wisconsin, where a concealed-carry bill is moving through a Republican Legislature and will likely be signed by a Republican governor, already allows for those who legally own guns to carry them openly.

2. The lesson of history

Gun rights like this have expanded everywhere. Opponents fretted in advance that the streets were going to run with blood and every little traffic altercation would result in deadly shootouts, while supporters insisted that crime would drop because evildoers and the intemperate would never know who might be packing.

There are plenty of anecdotes to support either position. Gun-rights advocates have no end of stories of armed citizens thwarting bad guys as well as statistics indicating that permit-holders are far more law-abiding than average, while the Violence Policy Center in Washington, D.C., keeps a running tally on its website of people killed by concealed handgun permit-holders since May 2007 (it's up to 288).

Academics have sifted through these kinds of claims and counterclaims and have come to opposing conclusions for decades. And having read this research (with sometimes glassy eyes), I'm inclined to agree with the National Academy of Sciences panel that concluded in 2004 that, given the difficulty of isolating all the potential variables, there isn't convincing evidence either way that right-to-carry laws increase or decrease crime rates.

In short, there's no good reason for a state not to issue such permits.

3. A wink from the U.S. Supreme Court

Phelps Brandon State Rep "I've never seen this proposal have so much traction and I attribute it mostly to the two U.S. Supreme Court rulings," said state Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, (right) referring to the rulings that lifted handgun ownership bans in Chicago and Washington, D.C.

Phelps introduced House Bill 148, and in it quoted Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's majority opinion in the Washington case in which the court mulled over what the authors of the Second Amendment meant by the right to "bear" arms, and concluded they meant to guarantee "the individual right to possess and carry weapons" in anticipation of confrontation. My emphasis added.

4. Law enforcement's lowered resistance

Police have traditionally been opponents of concealed-carry laws, but two years ago the Illinois Sheriffs' Association announced its support for the idea and the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police recently dropped its opposition and adopted the same neutral position staked out by the Illinois State Police.

"We decided that if we stayed opposed, we wouldn't have a seat at the table" during negotiations over amendments police are seeking, said Laimutis Nargelenas, a spokesman for the chiefs. "So we went neutral."

5. The downstate natives are restless

Democrats, in particular, need to toss a bone to the more conservative voters downstate who're chafing more than a bit at the end of the death penalty and the implementation of same-sex civil unions, which Phelps said his constituents see as Chicago-centric. "We feel kind of slighted," he added.

Gov. Pat Quinn has indicated his opposition to concealed-carry in the past (as has Chicago Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel), but Quinn recently issued a statement saying he'd give the proposal "the thorough review it deserves should it arrive on (his) desk."

Rep. Phelps said he hopes not to need Quinn's signature or Emanuel's OK. Indeed, because such a change arguably overrules the powers of home-rule communities, the concealed-carry bill is probably going to need a veto-proof three-fifths majority simply to pass.

That threshold is one major reason backers should be pessimistic. But maybe if they throw in a few concessions to those pushing for "common-sense gun restrictions," they can reach a deal and Illinois can stop being the odd state out. 

Links of interest below
The February, 2009 news release from the Illinois Sherrifs Association (.pdf) announcing a shift in  favor of concealed carry The U.S. Supreme Court:  The Heller (D.C. gun ban) ruling and the McDonald (Chicago gun ban) ruling. Read the relevant highlights here.
Illinois House Bill 0148, The Family and Personal Protection Act.
Handgun U.S. -- "We are a Database of Information on Carrying Firearms legally for Self-Defense. That is all we will try to be." See screen grabs from their interactive historical map here.
Concealed carry has more support in Legislature this year, sponsor says, (March 8, Gatehouse News Service/ Andy Brownfield) House committee advances concealed-carry bill (March 10,Gatehouse News Service/ Andy Brownfield)
Data on Firearms and Violence Too Weak to Settle Policy Debates;
Comprehensive Research Effort Needed
-- The National Academy of Sciences news release, Dec. 16, 2004

From the Violence Policy Center -- "Total People Killed by Concealed Handgun Permit Holders."
United States Concealed Carry Association
 I don't often link to Wikipedia, but its article Concealed carry in the United States is a link-rich resource if you're looking to explore both/all sides of this issue.
A wee bit on home-rule and the veto from the Illinois Constitution that may apply here:
A County which has a chief executive officer elected by the electors of the county and any municipality which has a population of more than 25,000 are home rule units. Other municipalities may elect by referendum to become home rule units. Except as limited by this Section, a home rule unit may exercise any power and perform any function pertaining to its government and affairs including, but not limited to, the power to regulate for the protection of the public health, safety, morals and welfare;..... The General Assembly by a law approved by the vote of three-fifths of the members elected to each house may deny or limit the power to tax and any other power or function of a home rule unit....
The house to which a bill is returned shall immediately enter the Governor's objections upon its journal. If within 15 calendar days after such entry that house by a record vote of three-fifths of the members elected passes the bill, it shall be delivered immediately to the second house. If within 15 calendar days after such delivery the second house by a record vote of three-fifths of the members elected passes the bill, it shall become law.


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It's time we end the unilateral disarming of our most responsible citizens. Let's get this passed this year.
"In short, there's no good reason for a state not to issue such permits."
And no good reason for them to issue such permits. In the absence of evidence either way, we should not be issuing permits for people to carry deadly weapons around in public.
#6: People's willingness to listen to myths regarding deadly weapons and self defense. I'm sure the myth-peddlers will have an explanation the first time there is a shooting in public, some other yahoo pulls a gun and more people get killed in the crossfire.
(By the way, have we looked into how much support for this project has been coming from Colt's Manufacturing, Magnum Research, Remington and the various other assorted arm dealers in the US? Remington especially interests me; with all this supposed groundswell of support for concealed carry, I find it very interesting that Remington is suddenly getting back into handgun manufacture.)
I'm not particularly convinced by the argument that the possibility of concealed carry will dissuade muggers and rapists, but I *am* convinced that criminals are already carrying concealed weapons (duh, right?), so I'm at least tentatively open to the proposal to let non-criminals carry too. I'll support concealed carry if a precondition of getting a carry permit is training and licensure à la driver's licensing. It would be difficult for the pro-gun folks to argue that such licensing is unconstitutional, since it's more or less explicitly referenced in the 2nd Amendment (i.e. "well-regulated").
"... the Violence Policy Center in Washington, D.C., keeps a running tally on its website of people killed by concealed handgun permit-holders since May 2007 (it's up to 288)."
One problem with the VPC. They lie. I would like to say that they are merely mistaken, but I personally (along with a number of people that I know and trust) have sent them corrections, but they refuse to correct their "concealed carry killer" data. They are also the group that determined Texas permit holders were three times more likely than non-permit holders to be arrested for gun crimes. But their definition of "gun crimes" did not include murder, assault, rape and robbery (all of which permit holders commit at vastly lower rates than their non-permitted demographic equals), instead their "gun crimes" consisted of "failure to conceal", or "carrying in a prohibited location" (like hospitals, etc.). This is sort of like saying that people with drivers licenses are more likely to be arrested for DUI. They also counted arrests, not convictions, which ignored the fact that most of these heinous "gun crimes" were dismissed long before they came to trial.
As for the 2004 National Academy of Sciences report, they looked at the most comprehensive study of concealed carry ever done, a peer-reviewed study which took years of data from every county in the country, controlled for more than a score of variables, had been replicated and verified by over a dozen reputable scientists, and refused to consider it because it was "counter-intuitive". The study in question? Lott and Mustard's "More Guns, Less Crime".
I try to be quite vigilant as I walk from my car to my home, looking out for strangers lurking on my block. I think I would like to have the option, if I become aware that I am about to be attacked, to pull a weapon and defend myself.
I don't think a law-abiding citizen should be in fear of prosecution if she or he shoots a would-be mugger.
I do not envision myself foiling a bank robbery (who actually goes to banks anyway?) or stopping a Tucson-like rampage. But I feel I have the right to defend myself on the streets.
"Because evildoers and the intemperate would never know who might be packing" It's about time that the law is weighted toward the law-abiding citizen. Those with a proclivity for violence will in-all-likelihood employ caution before attempting to feed their impulses. The probability that you may get injured or worse undoubterly, will persuade many of these degenerates to give deep thoughts to their impending actions. Their apologists will resuscitate their perennial unconvincing arguments that conceal-carry doesn't deter or stop crimes in progress. (many criminals would privately beg to differ). the only provision to this law should be a requirement that all seeking licenses demonstrate a pronounced skill at handling weapons.

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"Change of Subject" by Chicago Tribune op-ed columnist Eric Zorn contains observations, reports, tips, referrals and tirades, though not necessarily in that order. Links will tend to expire, so seize the day. For an archive of Zorn's latest Tribune columns click here. An explanation of the title of this blog is here. If you have other questions, suggestions or comments, send e-mail to ericzorn at More about Eric Zorn

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