Area lawmakers, even those who have been endorsed by the National Rifle Association and have been ardently pro-Second Amendment, are being restrained in their comments about Illinois' court-ordered move to a concealed carry state law.
East Central Illinois is pro-gun territory, with only state Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, among the incumbent lawmakers who didn't get the NRA's endorsement last month. But none of those lawmakers — most of whom have supported concealed carry legislation in the past — is crowing about the ruling by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that threw out Illinois' concealed carry ban and ordered the state to approve a concealed carry law within 180 days. Rather, their response in the aftermath of the school shootings in Connecticut is measured and moderate.
"We need to have a calm, rational discussion on both sides. You have the court decision and then what happened in Connecticut a week ago has added a lot of fuel to this debate," said Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon. "Some people have reached out to me and said that if the principal out there in Connecticut had been armed or if the school teacher had been armed couldn't they have ended it right then? I don't know the answer to that but it warrants a discussion, not just automatic dismissal or, 'Oh we can't do that in the schools.' I don't know whether that's a good idea or a bad idea but I know we need to talk about it."
Righter, a Republican leader in the Senate, said he hasn't "boiled it down to specifics yet" as to what he'd want in a concealed-carry law in Illinois.
"The approach we need to take is to look at what other states have done. That's the one virtue of being last. We can look around and select from the best ideas out there," he said, noting Illinois' position as the last state to allow concealed carry.
Rep. Jason Barickman, a Champaign Republican who will move up to the Senate next month, said he views HB 148, which got 65 votes in a House roll call last year but fell short of having enough support to supersede home rule, "as an acceptable starting point" for discussion on a new bill.
"I think all of us will probably step back and look at that as a starting point or a framework of what we'd like to see," Barickman said.
He said he would examine concealed-carry laws in other states but said "it's too soon to say" which state laws could serve as models.
As for allowing guns in schools, Barickman said, "We need to hear from the stakeholders. All of us who are parents have a vested interest in being able to drop our children off at school and know that they are safe. I'm not going to jump to any conclusion as to how that can best occur."
Rep. Chad Hays, R-Catlin, agreed with Barickman that HB 148, of which he was a cosponsor, could be a framework for a future law.
"After the judges' ruling last week there are some whose position is that we're not going to negotiate on any exemptions, et cetera. But obviously the events of last week kind of temper that discussion on not only a statewide but a nationwide basis," Hays said. "But when you look back on the bill that was voted on in 2011, it was a bill that had been negotiated and had enough restrictions as relates to public places."
Those restrictions, which Hays called "common sense provisions," would have banned concealed weapons in schools, community colleges and universities, courthouses, stadiums, bars, amusement parks, casinos, airports and most government buildings. Private businesses also would be allowed to restrict concealed weapons.
The legislation required background checks and training for those with concealed carry permits.
"I think you will see a bill that will not be dramatically unlike what you saw in the spring of 2011," Hays predicted.
Jakobsson, whose district includes Champaign and Urbana, is a longtime opponent of concealed carry. She wants not only restrictions on where concealed firearms can be carried, but "on the sale of magazines. An ordinary citizen doesn't need to have a lot of clips with 30 rounds in them. I really think there should be some kind of limit on the ammunition."
She also wants schools, places of worship and universities to be off-limits to concealed weapons.
For Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, the concealed-carry debate is a tricky one. Part of his district is anti-gun Champaign-Urbana while another part is pro-gun Vermilion County.
"In an ideal world there would have to be background checks and we would screen out people with mental illnesses," he said. As for other provisions, such as who would approve concealed-carry permits, Frerichs said "it's not something I've given a great deal of thought to."
He said he hasn't gotten many calls or messages from his constituents on the issue "but people are focused on other things right now."
Almost a congressman
Congressman-elect Rodney Davis has been busy assembling a staff, setting up his 13th Congressional District offices and preparing to move into digs on Capitol Hill.
His office, at 1740 Longworth House Office Building, also will be his living quarters.
"Paul Ryan's been doing it for 14 years. It's not uncommon out there," Davis said of his plan to work and sleep in his office suite. Davis' family will remain in his hometown of Taylorville and he, like most members of Illinois' congressional delegation, will commute to Washington on Tuesday mornings and return on Thursday night or Friday mornings.
The Longworth Building office is currently occupied by U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo.
"As you enter he's got a big Missouri Tiger up on the wall. We're going to replace that with something from the (University of Illinois)," Davis said.
In his district, which runs from Champaign-Urbana southwest to Edwardsville and Collinsville, Davis plans to have district offices in Champaign and Decatur, and probably also some presence in Springfield and the metro East area.
His chief district office will be in Champaign, in the same spot at 2004 Fox Drive that retiring U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Urbana, has occupied for years. Davis officially becomes the occupant on Jan. 3, the same day he is sworn in as a congressman. As a cost-saving move, in Springfield and in the metro East area, Davis hopes to share office space with, respectively, Reps. Aaron Schock and his old boss, Rep. John Shimkus.
"I think it's obvious the importance we place on Champaign-Urbana that that will be the first office we open in the district," Davis said. Champaign County also was the top vote-producing county in the district last month.
Leasing office space and hiring staff has been somewhat problematic, Davis said, because he doesn't have an office budget yet. But he's made some top-level hires already, although they're not on a payroll until Jan. 3.
Tim Butler of Springfield, who worked on Davis' election campaign this fall, will be his district chief of staff. Butler had worked for former Rep. (now U.S. Transportation Secretary) Ray LaHood. Jen Daulby, a former aide to Shimkus and more recently a lobbyist for Monsanto, will become Davis' Capitol Hill chef of staff. Bobby Frederick, a Champaign native who has worked for both Johnson and Rep. Bobby Schilling, R-Ill., will become Davis' legislative director in Washington. Jen White, another former Johnson staffer, will be a Davis constituent service caseworker in the Champaign office. And Andrew Flack, formerly a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, will become Davis' communications director.
Many of his staff members, Davis said, have ties to the UI.
"I think we've got a good team, most of whom have experience and familiarity with the district, and professional experience with the issues that are important to the people of the 13th District," he said.
Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist, His column appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at email@example.com.