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Thursday, March 3, 2011 10:41 pm

This may be the year for ‘concealed-carry’

National Rifle Association lobbies for the right to carry a concealed firearm

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Bipartisan and law enforcement support may be the ticket for successful concealed-carry legislation in Illinois, an issue that been passed back and forth in the state since the 1990s.

Concealed-carry would allow residents of Illinois to carry a concealed weapon at age 21, with restrictions for past criminal convictions. The concept is not new but the bill’s chances of passing have improved.

The right to carry a concealed firearm has been in contest as long as political columnist Rich Miller can remember in more than 20 years covering Statehouse politics.

“It’s closer to passing than it ever has been, but there’s no guarantee,” Miller says.    

When Florida legalized concealed-carry in 1999, including in taverns, Miller thought the whole state was going to “blow up,” because of high crime rates.      

“If Florida didn’t blow up, it’s hard to argue that Illinois will,” Miller says. “It’s not just going to be everyone gets to carry a concealed weapon, whatever the outcome of this, and it shouldn’t.”

Lawmakers in the General Assembly are attempting another round after repeated failure to pass concealed-carry legislation. Illinois remains one of the last states without concealed-carry, next to Wisconsin. Rep. Brandon Phelps, a Harrisburg Democrat, has taken the lead on House Bill 148 that has accumulated 30 house sponsors. Todd Vandermyde, lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, says that House Bill 148 has the highest chance of success, which would mean single statewide concealed-carry permits for legal gun owners.

Miller believes the showdown will be in the Senate, because Senate President John Cullerton wants to make a “deal” to pass legislation.

Cullerton’s press office denies Cullerton wants to make a “deal”%u2008to pass the legislation.

John Patterson, deputy press secretary for Cullerton, told Illinois Times in an e-mail that, “The senate president personally opposes the carrying of concealed weapons.”

“However, his personal opposition should not be considered a legislative roadblock if the various groups and lawmakers on each side of the concealed-carry issue are willing to have serious discussions in an effort to reach a compromise and advance legislation,” Patterson said.

Vandermyde says, “Cullerton is trying to find a way to make the legislation work.”

Vandermyde is “feeling very good” about concealed carry this year as opposed to failed attempts in the past.

“I think the mood and the climate in this building is very different than I‘ve ever seen it before,” he says. “We now have what we believe is a clear majority in both chambers to pass right to carry. We think that there are external political forces that are working on things that are pushing us along.”

Vandermyde says there have been negotiations between various law enforcement groups over the bill, with more consensus on a concealed-carry law than ever before.

Greg Sullivan, Illinois Sheriff’s Association executive director, says the association passed a resolution in February 2009 in support of concealed-carry, the first time the association outwardly promoted the right to carry.

“Not every sheriff supports concealed-carry but the overwhelming majority do,” Sullivan says.

Springfield Police Chief Robert Williams is silent on concealed carry. “We don’t have an opinion one way or the other and neither do I personally,” Williams says. “We simply enforce the laws.”

Sangamon County Sheriff Neil Williamson supports the legislation. He believes the issue is a matter of a citizens being able to protect themselves.

“We can’t be everywhere,” he says.

“I’m not worried about the mom and pop that need to protect themselves…it’s the criminals that have the guns that I’m worried about.”

For more information on House Bill 148, go online at www.ilga.gov.

Contact Holly Dillemuth at hdillemuth@illinoistimes.com.

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