SPRINGFIELD | An Illinois Senate panel approved a measure Thursday allowing the carrying of concealed weapons, but the committee's move followed sharp questioning from Republicans concerning whether packing a gun in Chicago should require special permission and how authorities would determine who is fit to carry.
The Senate Executive Committee voted 10-4 to advance the legislation sponsored by Sen. Kwame Raoul, a Chicago Democrat. Senate President John Cullerton said the bill might get a Senate floor vote Friday.
Raoul is selling the measure as a permissive way for gun owners to take their weapons out in public if they have proper training and pass a background check.
The legislation has been demanded by a December federal court decree that declared Illinois' concealed carry ban unconstitutional. Gun owners, led by the National Rifle Association, deride Raoul's proposal as restrictive, potentially confusing and ripe for lawsuits.
They say requiring a local police "endorsement" to carry in Chicago is an impermissible double standard and objected to larger cities being able to designate additional local spots as off-limits to guns.
Republicans also decried provisions in the legislation that require applicants for conceal-and-carry permits to have a "proper reason" and be "of good moral character."
The "moral character" line is particularly galling to gun advocates. It's vague and a magnet for lawsuits, said Sen. Dale Righter, a Mattoon Republican, arguing that it must be more clearly defined.
"Is it, the guy didn't go to enough of his kids' softball games when they were teenagers?" Righter asked. "That someone drank too much? That they didn't spend enough time at home? That they stole supplies from the office and didn't get caught?"
Raoul, who said he wanted to leave such decisions to police, nonetheless stressed there would have to be evidence of a "tangible threat to public safety." A similar standard, one sensitive to avoiding lawsuits, would apply to a piece of the legislation that grants local police, such as county sheriffs, the right to object to an individual's application, Illinois State Police Lt. Darrin Clark testified.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms applies outside the home and ordered Illinois to jettison its ban on public possession by June 9. Gun advocates have struggled for years to bring concealed carry to the state, now the nation's lone holdout. They've mostly been stymied by Chicago lawmakers sensitive to the carnage handguns — mostly illegally obtained — cause on the streets of the nation's third-largest city.
Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat, said a floor vote count is "pretty close." If it's adopted and moves to the House, it will compete with an NRA-backed plan that fell seven votes short of passage last month but could resurface. That plan got significantly more support than a more restrictive measure, more in line with Raoul's, that also failed last month.
House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said he discussed the issue with Raoul and acknowledged large differences among various proposals.
"It won't be easy," Madigan told reporters Thursday. "People are going to be asked to compromise, they're going to be asked to do some things they really don't want to do."
Gun owners have also targeted the multi-layered geographical approach, requiring gun owners who want to carry in Chicago to get not only a statewide permit from the state police, but from Chicago police. Raoul has repeatedly said the density of Chicago creates greater "sensitivities" to guns and requires an extra layer of scrutiny.
"This is not a carry bill. This is a bill to discourage people and prevent people from exercising their fundamental, constitutional right to keep and bear arms for self-defense in the public," NRA lobbyist Todd Vandermyde said.
Vandermyde said allowing a "home-rule" unit — generally a city with a population of more than 25,000 — to add to the list of prohibited places to carry guns, such as a local park, would create a "patchwork" that would confuse gun owners about where they could or couldn't carry firearms.
Raoul said there's already a patchwork because property owners can ban guns inside homes or businesses.
"It's an imperfect process, it's an imperfect product, but it's an attempt to act on something," Raoul said. "... I'm trying to do something to respond to the mandate of the court, promote public safety and balance the rights of law-abiding gun owners in the process."