* The show starts at noon…
In a pivotal showdown on guns, the Illinois House plans Tuesday to begin a marathon series of politically divisive votes to lay down limits on where exactly gun owners can legally carry their weapons in public.
The unusual maneuver orchestrated by House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), a traditional proponent of gun-control measures, will focus on 27 different tweaks to pending concealed carry legislation bearing his name.
Nearly a dozen different legislators filed amendments Monday to Madigan’s bill, laying out specifically where gun owners could take their weapons once the state answers a December federal court order to end Illinois’ outright ban on carrying concealed weapons.
Some of the places the amendments would bar gun owners from taking their weapons include government buildings, child-care facilities, casinos, hospitals, stadiums and arenas, protest, museums, universities, public transit, amusement parks and churches. […]
“It gives every member of the House a chance to participate,” Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said of the unusual approach in debating such a huge array of amendments one by one.
All 27 amendments are here.
* There’s also a big dispute over “may” or “shall issue”…
“I think the biggest sticking point is going to be “shall issue” against “may issue” more than anything,” explains Representative Brandon Phelps of Harrisburg.
Phelps is sponsoring the current right to carry legislation, co-written by the National and Illinois Rifle Associations. It says that a license to carry “shall” be issued.
Phelps explains, “If you meet the qualifications and you pass the background check, I think you ought to be able to be awarded a concealed carry permit.”
But “shall” doesn’t cut it for many northern lawmakers. They want language that says a license to carry “may” be issued, depending on the judgement of local authorities. They argue that language works well in a handful of states, including New York.
“Many local law enforcement officials in smaller and rural communities know their citizens personally. These local officers are well aware of who stumbles out of the bar,” explains Mary Kay Mace, who lost her daughter in the shooting at Northern Illinois University in 2008.
Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said that Tuesday marks the “first of probably several sessions” on the topic. The goal is to give lawmakers the chance to “speak to and vote on” numerous gun issues, Brown said.
The motivations of the state’s longest-serving speaker, however, are not always clear in a Capitol where he has largely controlled the agenda year after year. Hot-button legislation often is worked on behind closed doors among competing interest groups and heard at the committee level; then a single bill that lawmakers can take or leave is voted on. Madigan also sometimes will survey his Democratic members privately to see what they could support on issues such as tax increases. […]
Rep. Brandon Phelps, who has pushed for allowing concealed carry in Illinois, has added his own question to the Tuesday mix, an amendment that would legalize the practice but require training and prohibit guns from being taken into schools, stadiums and bars.
Phelps suggested the speaker’s Tuesday debate is an attempt to find out where every lawmaker stands on the various issues that have come up in hearings before the House Judiciary Committee.
“A lot of people across this state and nation will be watching,” said Phelps, a Democrat from Harrisburg in far southern Illinois, of Tuesday’s action.
Doing it this way will leave individual lawmakers less political cover to run away from a bill by simply arguing they didn’t have a chance to add an element, such as certain restrictions for a firearms bill. The approach also puts many freshman lawmakers as well as some squeamish veterans on the spot, requiring them to take clear positions on politically difficult issues.
The speaker’s approach allows political protection, said Kent Redfield, a former House staff member and retired political scientist at the University of Illinois at Springfield.
A comprehensive “clean bill,” such as one Phelps has introduced, would require a single yes or no, without nuances that can be explained away at election time. Redfield said the Madigan process allows Democrats, who understand the state must adopt gun legislation, to nonetheless vote against provisions they find particularly distasteful and politically risky.
“An up-or-down vote on a clean bill, you either voted for or against,” he said. “If you allow a bunch of votes, then people can be on specific roll calls for specific provisions and he can give them some cover” from outraged voters.
I’ll post a live blog later this morning. Make sure to watch it.