SPRINGFIELD — Illinois' public universities want to be free to continue the "reasonable regulation of weapons on campus" if and when a state concealed-carry law is approved, a representative of the state's public universities said Tuesday.
Members of the House judiciary committee took more than three hours of testimony from opponents and supporters of Illinois' current ban on concealed carry. A three-judge federal appellate court panel has ordered Illinois lawmakers to join with the other 49 states and approve a concealed-carry law by early June. However, Attorney General Lisa Madigan has asked the entire 10-member Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals to further review the decision.
"A critical component of our ability to meet our public-safety obligations is the continued authority to provide reasonable regulation," said Jerry Blakemore, an attorney for Northern Illinois University, who represented all of the state's public universities at the hearing. "It is the position of higher education that just as a courtroom would constitute the judiciary and the legislative chambers and rooms of this type would constitute our legislatures, classrooms, laboratories, academic, athletic, artistic and entertainment venues that characterize our higher education are sensitive places within the meaning of the Supreme Court, which allow us to provide reasonable regulation of firearms, including and up to prohibitions."
A concealed-carry bill (HB 997 ) sponsored by Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, includes a provision that allows universities, colleges and community colleges to prohibit the carrying of firearms on campus. A separate section prohibits anyone from carrying a concealed firearm into "any stadium, arena, or collegiate or professional sporting event."
Phelps' bill also prohibits concealed firearms in a number of other settings, including schools, public libraries, day care facilities, and bars and casinos. Phelps' bill is already sponsored by 47 of the 118 House members and is considered the most likely vehicle for a concealed-carry vote this year.
A lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, Todd Vandermyde, predicted after Tuesday's hearing that an amended version of Phelps' bill would pass the House with a veto-proof majority.
"I think if we put (House Bill) 997 up on the board, it will pass with a supermajority," Vandermyde said. "But we recognize it needs some amendments."
Most important, he said, is that Phelps' bill is not a "may-issue" proposal like those in 10 other states where concealed carry is restricted.
"Your rights aren't discretionary by some bureaucrat or some elected official," he said of Phelps' measure. "It's either a right or it's not."
But the mother of a victim of the 2008 mass shooting at Northern Illinois University urged lawmakers to give local police "a say" in issuing concealed-carry permits.
"I ask that you write any legislation a may-issue statute rather than shall-issue statute," said Mary Kay Mace. "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 regularly after having imbibed too much. ... These local officers know which of their citizens is a hothead who menaces his or her spouse."
The chairman of the judiciary committee was less certain that Phelps' concealed-carry bill would pass the House this year.
"I don't know, honestly. We have 20-some new members," said Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook. "Right now I don't know what those members ran on and what their communities feel in their new districts."
Also Tuesday, Lt. Darrin Clark of the Illinois State Police estimated that concealed-carry cards could cost card holders up to $242.35 over five years, depending on the number of cards issued in Illinois. There have been first-year estimates of between 150,000 and 400,000 cards.
"A lot of that is going to depend on what version of the bill passes, because if it's a may-issue bill, obviously we don't think we'll get as many applications," Clark said.
Further, Clark said state police aren't recovering the full cost of administering the state's Firearms Owner's Identification card program.
"It costs us $12 to process a FOID card today, of which the cost (to the holder) is $10," he said. "Many people are not aware that of that $10 card, we only get $4. The other $6 is going to the Department of Natural Resources for gun-safety programs."
A second judiciary committee hearing on state gun laws is set for Friday in Chicago.