SPRINGFIELD — Another concealed carry firearms bill — the most restrictive of three that have received committee votes this spring — cleared a Senate panel Thursday on a 10-4 roll call.
Although all four no votes came from Republicans, Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, voted present, saying that she had "major" problems with the legislation (amendment 1 on HB 183) but that they were "fixable."
Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, the only area senator on the Senate Executive Committee, was less restrained.
"That bill is opening the door for litigation because of the broad discretion it gives to elected officials to deny citizens their rights for arbitrary reasons," Righter said. "This phrase in there — 'of good moral character' — we hope that everyone has good moral character, but the bottom line is to put a political official in the city of Chicago in charge of deciding someone's good moral character for purposes of exercising a constitutional right is borderline offensive."
Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, who is not a member of the executive committee and was not present for the debate Thursday, said he did not know how we would vote on the measure. It could get a floor vote as early as today.
"I have been given updates as it has gone along, but I haven't seen the final bill," he said Thursday afternoon.
Opponents of the bill focused on the many proposed restrictions on applicants for concealed-carry cards.
Among them, home rule units in the state such as the cities of Champaign and Urbana would be able to "prohibit the carrying of handguns in places or locations within the municipality in addition to the prohibited places or locations" in the bill.
The bill already makes firearms off-limits in schools, bars, libraries, stadiums, on mass transit and in a number of other locations.
Along with more routine prohibitions, such as for people with felony convictions or with a recent history of mental illness, two provisions say that applicants for concealed-carry cards must have "a proper reason for carrying a firearm" and that they can only go to "a responsible person of good moral character and that the issuance of the license to the applicant is consistent with good public safety."
Further, anyone seeking a card to carry a weapon in Chicago would have to obtain a "certificate of qualification" from that city's police superintendent.
"This is not a carry bill," argued National Rifle Association lobbyist Todd Vandermyde. "This is a bill to discourage people and prevent people from carrying a firearm and exercising their constitutional and fundamental right to keep and bear arms for self-defense in public."
He said the provision allowing municipalities to add their own restrictions could be problematic to gun owners, but he didn't believe many communities would do so.
"We don't think there will be that many because a lot of them are operating under the same budget constraints that the General Assembly is, and I don't think they want to be spending hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars, in litigation to send my lawyer's grandchildren to Yale."
Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine, said that if Illinois passed a concealed-carry law that is too onerous on gun owners, "I think you run the risk of the Seventh Circuit saying you effectively infringed that right."
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ordered earlier this year that the state enact a concealed-carry law by June 9.
However, Sen. Kwame Raoul, the bill's sponsor, said that parts of his proposal were taken from Indiana state law, but he acknowledged that the bill is "an imperfect product."
"I don't know what the end game is, but I'm trying to do something to respond to the mandate of the court, to promote public safety and balance the right of law-abiding gun owners in the process," he said.