Federal appeals court shoots down Illinois concealed carry law - FOX 32 News Chicago

Court shoots down Ill. concealed carry law, NRA calls open carry possible

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

A federal appeals court has shot down the Illinois ban on carrying concealed weapons, in the only state where carrying loaded, ready-to-use firearms outside the home is still illegal.

The National Rifle Association's chief lobbyist in Illinois said gun-owners with Wild West-style, visibly holstered firearms could be striding through Chicago's Loop – not to mention every other corner of Illinois - by late May.

That was the deadline given Tuesday, by a three-judge panel on the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. By a 2-1 margin, they found the Illinois ban on carrying firearms outside one's home to be unconstitutional.

The court essentially said that the second amendment right to bear arms means more than just being able to possess a gun for self-defense in one's home. Instead, the right is a basic right to self-defense, and any reasonable interpretation of self-defense also means being able to carry a gun outside the home, where things are a lot more dangerous.

"A gun is a potential danger to more people if carried in public than just kept in the home," the majority opinion said. "But the other side of this coin is that knowing that many law-abiding citizens are walking the streets armed may make criminals timid."

While the NRA's goal in bringing the lawsuit had been to create a right to carry a concealed firearm in Illinois, lobbyist Todd Vandermyde said the end result could be far more sweeping. Unless the General Assembly - deeply divided over gun-related issues for so long now - can act quickly, the state could suddenly find itself with virtually no restrictions on gun rights.

"It's not a joke. We could end up with Wild West-style open carry and concealed carry," one legislator who has long supported severe restrictions on such gun rights said.

He said Springfield's gun control proponents had long feared the sort of sweeping federal court ruling that was issued Tuesday.

A spokeswoman for one of the state's leading gun control groups said lawyers were still analyzing the ruling. She said they would react later in the day.

12 years after nearly dying from a gunshot on the West Side, Gloria Muldrow insisted law-abiding citizens would not be safer if only they carried loaded guns.

"I still have to live with I have a bullet in my head. And I'm not too pleased about that at all," Muldrow says. "I'm afraid that it means more killing and more violence."

Gun rights advocates long have argued that the prohibition against concealed weapons violates the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment, and what they see as Americans' right to carry guns for self-defense. This decision is a major victory for them.

The court majority on Monday agreed, reversing lower court rulings against a lawsuit that had challenged the state law.

"The Supreme Court has decided that the amendment confers a right to bear arms for self-defense, which is as important outside the home as inside," Judge Richard Posner wrote in the court's majority opinion. "The theoretical and empirical evidence (which overall is inconclusive) is consistent with concluding that a right to carry firearms in public may promote self-defense."

He continued: "Illinois had to provide us with more than merely a rational basis for believing that its uniquely sweeping ban is justified by an increase in public safety. It has failed to meet this burden."

The court ordered its ruling stayed "to allow the Illinois legislature to craft a new gun law that will impose reasonable limitations, consistent with the public safety and the Second Amendment as interpreted in this opinion, on the carrying of guns in public," Posner said.

But the court did not open the door to immediate carrying of concealed weapons. The state has 180 days to come up with a plan to reasonably regulate such possession.

Gun control advocates said they would likely push for a law similar to one in New York State. It allowed local governments, such as in New York City, to impose additional restrictions of their own on granting concealed carry permits. New York City requires of showing of special need before a permit is granted. Such laws are called "may issue" because local officials decide whether permits should be granted.

Vandermyde said the NRA controlled enough votes in Springfield to block passage of any "may issue" law in Illinois. He said Illinois would have to adopt a "shall issue" law - one mandating that a firearms carry permit be granted to virtually everyone. The only exceptions would include felons and the mentally ill.

According to Vandermyde, the NRA would prefer no new law at all to one that left gun rights to the discretion of state and local officials. If no new law were adopted by the court's mid-May deadline, he said, Illinois would instantly transform from one of America's most restrictive gun-rights states to one of the most open.

Vandermyde claimed the court's ruling created a sort of "gun-rights cliff" similar to the so-called "fiscal cliff" in Washington, D.C. With the state's current gun law invalidated, failure to enact a new one would effectively free Illinois gun owners to carry loaded firearms in virtually any fashion, he said. They would need no training and would be subject to virtually no oversight, he said, needing only a state Firearm Owners Identification card.

The leader of the Illinois State Rifle Association praised the court's decision to strike down the gun ban, and said the state could have a new concealed carry law by early next month.

Richard Pearson said a bill has already been written by state Rep. Brandon Phelps of Harrisburg that includes provisions for background checks, field provisions and other issues. He said lawmakers could consider it in January if they wanted to.

"We are extremely pleased with the ruling," Pearson said. "Now that the court has ruled ... we will work as soon as possible with legislators to craft a concealed carry bill for the state of Illinois."

He said lawmakers could consider it and pass it during a weeklong legislative session in January if they wanted to.

Phelps said the appeals court action means "Christmas came early for law-abiding gun owners."

Phelps, a longtime chief sponsor of concealed carry proposals, recalled that, the last time the House voted on the issue, he had a specific warning for opponents: they might win in the General Assembly, but their cause was doomed in federal court.

Phelps said he would use the 180-day grace period granted by the court to reach out to Mayor Emanuel and other foes of concealed carry. He'll urge them to approve a new law that recognizes it as a right.

"My understanding is that if no new law is enacted (by the mid-May deadline) someone could walk down Michigan Avenue with an AR-15 strapped to their shoulder," Phelps said. "The mayor and the governor should have worked with us a long time ago."

In a statement released Tuesday, Congressman Joe Walsh joined Phelps in hailing the court ruling, calling it a "victory for Illinois residents."

Walsh has been on the front lines of the Second Amendment debate. In June, Walsh and three other Members of the Illinois delegation sent a letter to Governor Pat Quinn urging him to give residents their constitutional right to protect and defend themselves.

Gov. Pat Quinn's office is reviewing the decision, according to office spokeswoman Brooke Anderson. The Chicago Democrat has been in favor of strict gun control laws and proposed an assault weapons ban earlier this year, which lawmakers voted down.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office said it is reviewing the ruling and would comment Tuesday.

The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed by former corrections officer Michael Moore of Champaign, farmer Charles Hooks of Percy in southeastern Illinois and the Bellevue, Wash.-based Second Amendment Foundation.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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