NORMAL — Congressional candidates Rodney Davis and David Gill each endorsed concealed carry in Illinois, including allowing guns on college campuses.
It was one of the few issues that the Republican and Democratic candidates agreed on during a one-hour debate Wednesday at Illinois State University.
The debate, organized by the American Democracy Project at ISU, was held in a 740-seat hall that was about 90 percent full.
It was the first face-to-face meeting between the two major party candidates, except for an editorial board session at the State Journal-Register newspaper in Springfield and an informal meeting with State Farm insurance employees in Bloomington.
Independent candidate John Hartman of Edwardsville was not invited to participate, organizers said, because he had not reached a 10 percent threshold in public opinions polls in the 13th District. Hartman has been invited to two other debates, one next week in Springfield and another on Nov. 1 in Urbana.
Both candidates have received high marks from the influential National Rifle Association, but only Davis won the group's endorsement.
Gill, an emergency room physician, said he "reluctantly" supported concealed carry on campuses.
Asked if there were any places where guns should not be permitted, he responded grade schools and churches.
"I would be very limited in where I'd exclude them," he said. "I think that people should have the opportunity to defend themselves. That's the underlying principle. Should you be defenseless just bacause you're walking on the Quad at the U of I? That's where bad stuff happens."
He said he did not believe it would lead to more patients in hospital emergency rooms.
"It's been proven. It's been studied," said the Bloomington Democrat.
And Davis said that "concealed carry is a provision that should be available to Illinois and throughout the country."
He said he didn't believe there are any places guns should not be allowed.
"When you look at the Second Amendment, and you look at states that have concealed-carry laws, I don't think you see an exponential increase in crime and frankly there are statistics on both sides. Some statistics will tell you that there's an actual decrease in crime. I believe that gun owners and law-abiding citizens should have the ability to protect themselves when needed."
The candidates also agreed that more funding should be avalable for Pell Grants for college students.
"Bump them up," Gill said.
He said he would pay for the increases in the grants "by stopping giving money to oil companies, stop being in Afghanistan, have the millionaires and billionaires pay their share."
Davis, too, said he favored more spending on Pell Grants.
"You've got nine colleges and universities in this district. Pell grants are essential to ensuring their sucess and the students' ability to having an affordable education."
He said he would "reprioritize the way America spends money" to pay for the increased grant funding.
But through most of the debate the candidates reran their standard campaign talking points, Gill mentioning the need for higher taxes on the wealthy, for an expanded Medicare-type health system for all Americans and for an end to corporate-backed candidates.
Davis spoke of the need to repeal and replace the Affordable Health Care Act and to cut government spending to help small busineses and to grow the economy.