SPRINGFIELD — Illinoisans could get the right to carry a loaded weapon in public by early May.
In a landmark ruling Tuesday that would bring the Land of Lincoln in line with the rest of the United States, a federal appeals court gave Illinois lawmakers 180 days to put a law on the books allowing Illinoisans to carry concealed weapons.
The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals did not offer guidelines for how the law in Illinois might be crafted.
“We order our mandate stayed for 180 days to allow the Illinois legislature to craft a new gun law that will impose reasonable limitations, consistent with the public safety and the Second Amendment as interpreted in this opinion, on the carrying of guns in public,” the court noted.
Gun rights supporters were ecstatic with the decision.
“This is a huge victory for law-abiding gun owners,” said state Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, who has sponsored concealed carry legislation in the House for several years. “The court is saying we need to get to work on this. This is a bigger decision than I thought we’d ever get.”
“We’re very pleased with the court’s decision, as you might suspect. We’ve always felt that the inability for a person to defend themselves outside their home in the state of Illinois has been illegal,” said Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association.
Illinois has been the lone state in the nation without concealed carry since Wisconsin approved a weapons law two years ago. Numerous attempts to approve a law have been blocked by Chicago-area lawmakers who say guns and crowded urban areas don’t mix.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has not decided whether to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“The court gave 180 days before its decision will be returned to the lower court to be implemented. That time period allows our office to review what legal steps can be taken and enables the legislature to consider whether it wants to take action,” spokeswoman Natalie Bauer said.
Gov. Pat Quinn, who earlier vowed to veto concealed carry legislation, also is reviewing the opinion, spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said.
Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, signaled that a vote on concealed carry is not imminent in his chamber.
“We will take the time to carefully review the ruling and consult with the attorney general’s office before determining future legislative action on concealed carry in Illinois,” a Cullerton spokeswoman noted in an email.
State Sen. Terry Link, D-Waukegan, said he hopes the decision is appealed. He said concealed carry won’t work in congested areas of the state.
“All we’re going to have is more shootings and more killings on our hands if this is legal,” Link said.
Phelps said opponents might be better off negotiating with pro-gun legislators to craft legislation that contains some restrictions on who and where concealed guns can be carried.
“It would be very, very smart for everyone involved to get to the table,” Phelps said. “If they don’t, they could end up with a law with few restrictions.”
State Rep. Adam Brown, R-Decatur, said he would support something similar to the legislation that narrowly lost in the House in recent years, requiring training, background checks and imposing other restrictions on people who receive the licenses.
The measure also would have banned concealed weapons from bars, churches, schools and classroom buildings at colleges and universities.
“Of course, we need to have safeguards. I think House Bill 148 provided a good framework that we could use,” Brown said. “I’m encouraged by the court’s decision. I think this is long overdue.”
Phelps said Illinois will not become the “Wild West” if the law is approved.
“Basically, the law would have allowed you to carry a gun from your house to your car and on a sidewalk,” Phelps said.
State Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, also said Quinn should avoid appealing the decision.
“There’s no reason we should waste taxpayer dollars on an appeal,” Brady said. “We’re the only outlier. Forty-nine other states have crafted and implemented the ability to carry concealed weapons.”