Before Friday’s horrific school shooting in Connecticut, people on both sides of Illinois’ concealed-carry debate were saying privately that they did not expect Attorney General Lisa Madigan to appeal her major loss at the hands of the U.S. Court of Appeals.
A three-judge panel of the appeals court in Chicago voted 2-1 to declare Illinois’ strict laws on carrying guns unconstitutional and gave the General Assembly 180 days to come up with a new, less restrictive law.
“A right to bear arms … implies a right to carry a loaded gun outside the home,” the majority opinion decreed, saying Illinois had failed to show that bans on concealed carry and other restrictions on gun owners had any positive effect.
Appealing the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court could be harmful to the anti-gun cause, both sides admitted last week. New York’s wealthy, influential and strongly anti-gun mayor, Michael Bloomberg, could oppose an appeal out of fear that the conservative Supreme Court justices wouldn’t preserve New York’s law, which allows him to keep most concealed guns off the city’s streets.
Other states that allow limited concealed carry, such as Maryland and California, will also probably oppose an appeal for the same reason. They don’t trust that the Supreme Court would uphold their restrictive laws.
This isn’t to say that Madigan won’t appeal. Her office has been publicly silent since last week’s appeals court ruling. In the wake of the grade school massacre, she may feel increasing pressure to file an appeal. Then again, she could just kick this to the General Assembly.
The National Rifle Association claims it has enough votes to block any attempt to enact a concealed-carry law in Illinois that is, in its opinion, too restrictive. Proposals to require million-dollar insurance policies, difficult training procedures or other significant restrictions are “off the table,” Todd Vandermyde, the NRA’s lobbyist, said.
There’s no doubt that the pro-gun side has built clear majorities in both chambers in favor of concealed carry. A ruling from Madigan’s father, House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), however, required the pro-gunners to find three-fifths majorities because the legislation would override local ordinances. The NRA is just shy of that in the House and barely at the threshold in the Senate.
But the NRA’s majorities were built on promises to restrict the right to carry guns to specific places and to mandate strenuous training. Schools would be off limits, for instance. Training would be required to obtain a gun permit. Those provisions were put into the last bill the NRA pushed as a way to attract more votes.
The question now becomes whether the NRA can hold on to its majorities in the Legislature in the face of a strong and panicked push by the other side to pass a restrictive bill in line with last week’s court opinion. The ruling specifically mentioned as reasonable keeping guns out of schools, government buildings and businesses that don’t want them and further stated that “a person who carries a gun in public but is not well trained in the use of firearms is a menace to himself and others.”
But Vandermyde said gun-rights supporters came out of the woodwork after the appeals court decision was handed down. He claimed that several black legislators had previously confided that they’d like to vote for concealed carry but couldn’t. Now, Vandermyde said, many of them pledged to side with the NRA.
The NRA’s coalition may be tough to hold together, however, if Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Gov. Pat Quinn, Speaker Madigan and the strongly anti-gun Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) team up to pass a restrictive concealed-carry bill. Several legislators who might like to support concealed carry also have jobs with the city and state or have loved ones who do.
But the NRA and Vandermyde don’t actually have to pass a bill. They just have to make sure that the other side cannot. And anyone who has been around the legislation process for more than a minute knows that killing a bill is always a lot easier than passing one.
If the NRA successfully delays legislative action until the 180-day time limit has passed, then, barring any further delays, the state’s current gun restrictions would be declared unenforceable.
Despite last week’s mass shooting, I wouldn’t bet too much money against the gun guys at the moment.
* And gun control wasn’t even mentioned in last weekend’s Democratic 2nd Congressional District slating attempt, which irked Dan Mihalopoulos…
If the Democratic bosses had bothered to ask some questions about gun control, they might have found more reason to sort out a favorite.
State Sen. Toi Hutchinson of Olympia Fields voted with the National Rifle Association’s positions 92 percent of the time and has enjoyed the Illinois State Rifle Association’s endorsement. Rival Deborah Halvorson, a former congresswoman from Crete, also had NRA backing.
At the other end of the spectrum were Robin Kelly (a lifetime grade of F from the NRA for her votes while a state lawmaker) and the pistol-packing Trotter (only voted with the pro-gun lobby 33 percent of the time).
The top three trending topics on Twitter on Saturday were Newtown, #NRA and #GunLawsAreAJoke. But will the anger over the shootings and at the rise in gun violence in Chicago be sustained? Will it translate into Democratic voters who demand to know the gun-control positions of the candidates before the Feb. 26 primary?
They clearly can’t leave that job to Beavers or to the party bosses.