DECATUR — Those who carry concealed firearms will not be prosecuted in Macon County, effective immediately.
State’s Attorney Jay Scott said Friday that after consulting with every police chief in the county and some rank-and-file officers and civilians, it was decided to establish a policy that will grant citizens their constitutional rights, while keeping the public safe.
“Recent legal developments have created uncertainty among the citizens of the state of Illinois as to the status of our gun laws,” Scott said in a news release.
After the Illinois law prohibiting the concealed carry of firearms was overturned by a federal appeals court as unconstitutional, Macon County has joined a growing list of downstate counties that permit individuals to carry guns if they possess valid Firearm Owner’s Identification cards. There are some additional restrictions in place in Macon County, including completion of a safety or training course and a prohibition on being under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
The General Assembly passed a bill May 31 to meet the 7th Appellate Court’s June 9 deadline for implementing a law permitting concealed carry, but Gov. Pat Quinn has not signed the bill into law. The state was granted an extension until July 9. The unsigned bill includes restrictions on those who carry concealed weapons, including firearm training.
Decatur Police Chief Todd Walker said he agrees with Scott, that there is a constitutional right to carry concealed weapons for self-defense and also believes those who carry firearms should be educated in their proper use.
“Before they begin carrying handguns, they need to obtain skills,” Walker said. “You have to show some sort of familiarity with a weapon. I think most law-abiding citizens will be OK with that.” Walker said law enforcement officers take an oath to defend the Constitution, and when the state failed to meet the court’s mandate, that put officers in a predicament.
“My concern is if each county enacts its own policy and those counties differ that could be problematic,” Walker said. “If the state doesn’t do anything, I believe there are no rules or restrictions.”
Walker said people should realize they may only use deadly force in limited circumstances.
State law provides that deadly force is justified to “prevent imminent death or great bodily harm” to yourself or another person, or prevent “commission of a forcible felony.” Forcible felonies include murder, criminal sexual assault, robbery, burglary and aggravated battery resulting in great bodily harm.
Macon County Sheriff Thomas Schneider said the intention of including firearm training as a prerequisite to concealed carry is not to put a roadblock in the way of law-abiding citizens.
“We put these safeguards in place because we’re responsible to maintain public safety,” Schneider said, adding that many people who receive FOID cards have never touched a gun. “We don’t want people who aren’t familiar with a firearm to be carrying a concealed weapon.”
Schneider said his officers have been instructed to check for a valid FOID card first. The next step is to check for proof of firearm training, such as a military veteran’s discharge certificate, proof of service as a law enforcement officer or a certificate of completion of a firearm training course.
Scott said he will continue to aggressively prosecute gun crimes.
“My office will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law any persons involved in irresponsible or illegal firearm activity,” Scott said.
Other counties permitting residents to carry concealed firearms include Peoria, McLean, Piatt, Madison, Randolph, White and Tazewell.