CHICAGO — A federal appeals court on Friday narrowly rejected Illinois' request to reconsider a ruling that found the state's concealed-carry weapons ban unconstitutional, leaving lawmakers in the only state that still prohibits concealed carry grappling with how to proceed.
The 5-4 ruling by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals gave state Attorney General Lisa Madigan the option of appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court -- a move that could affect gun laws in other states. It also came on the same day that state lawmakers had a hearing on the issue in Chicago, a city that's drawn national attention for its soaring gun violence and homicide rate, including the death of a 15-year-old honor student a mile from President Barack Obama's home.
Madigan said in a statement she has not decided whether to appeal. But she said a dissent written by four of the judges "provided a clear framework to guide the legislature in drafting a new law." Those judges said some restrictions, including limits on who may carry and where they may do so, could be considered constitutional.
"With the 180-day deadline still in place, it is critical that the legislature continue to work to enact a law that will protect public safety," said Madigan, a Democrat from Chicago.
Madigan had asked for the entire 10-judge federal appellate court to consider the case after a three-judge panel in December gave lawmakers until June 8 to legalize the concealed carry of firearms. She argued that the ruling conflicts with decisions by other federal appellate courts and goes beyond what the U.S. Supreme Court has held.
In a 5-4 decision, with one judge not participating, the court denied Madigan's request.
Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton, applauded the ruling.
"This ruling is another step toward Illinois becoming a concealed carry state," Haine said. "I am committed to allowing law-abiding citizens to defend themselves from criminal acts of violence."
The majority did not expand on the opinion written by Judge Richard Posner in December, which said there is "no suggestion that some unique characteristic of criminal activity in Illinois justifies the state's taking a different approach from the other 49 states."
Richard Pearson, the executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, said the ruling makes clear that courts believe the prohibition violates Second Amendment rights. If Madigan opts to appeal and the U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear the case it's possible the justices could strike down not only Illinois' ban on concealed carry, but also gun restrictions in other states, such as New York and Maryland.
"If she does (appeal) I would be happy," Pearson said. "There's a very good chance they'll rule in our favor."
Madigan has 90 days to decide whether to ask the high court to hear the case.
Lawmakers, meanwhile, were working to craft legislation that could get the approval of legislators from Chicago -- a city with some of the strictest gun ordinances in the nation -- as well as from the state's more rural and conservative areas, where there's more support for gun rights.
At the second of a series of Illinois House Judiciary Committee hearings, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle urged lawmakers to include extensive background checks. The Chicago Democrat also said guns shouldn't be allowed in schools, nursing homes, churches and government-owned and operated buildings.
Preckwinkle said people who want to have "the privilege" of carrying a weapon should be willing to accept restrictions on it.
Todd Vandermyde, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, said the federal court didn't say anything about concealed-carry being a privilege.
"This is a fundamental, constitutionally protected civil right," Vandermyde said.
A number of Chicago and Cook County officials testified, all of them suggesting various restrictions. Chicago Alderman Willie Cochran, for example, suggested granting concealed-carry permits only to people who undergo the same amount of firearms training as a police officer.
Vandermyde replied, "We're not cops." He said a person shouldn't be required to undergo training to defend one's self, one's home or one's property.
Chicago officials also suggested requiring GPS devices on guns and making it a crime if a person failed to notify police that a gun has been lost, stolen or sold. Vandermyde said the reporting requirement would essentially create a gun registry, which always ends up being abused by government.
Chicago Transit Authority President Forrest Claypool said allowing guns on crowded trains and buses would be a "recipe for disaster."
But state Rep. Dennis Reboletti, a Republican from the Chicago suburbs, had reservations about such limits.
"My concern is the gang members will always carry," Reboletti said, drawing a round of applause.
Laura Calderon, director of the Illinois Public Transportation Association, said every public transit body in the state, from Chicago to St. Clair County, is opposed to allowing concealed-carry on public transportation.
"Public perception of safety is absolutely critical," Calderon said.