SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The Illinois House of Representatives on Tuesday gave initial approval to the framework of a bill that would allow the concealed-carry of handguns.
The House voted 67-48 in favor of the main amendment, which would make Illinois a "shall issue" state where anyone meeting certain criteria would be granted a concealed-carry permit. The other option was a "may issue" law, where a local sheriff or government official would have authority to deny an application.
The bill, HB 1155, still would need final approval in the House. It also would have to be approved by the Senate and approved by the governor.
The passage of the main amendment, sponsored by Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, followed about six hours of debate about proposals to ban the carrying of weapons at various places, such as schools and churches. Those proposals were covered by a dozen other amendments, nine of which were passed and three of which were voted down.
Pro-gun legislators argued the proposed restrictions, taken together, would effectively ban concealed-carry anywhere.
The House began debate on 27 separate amendments dealing with concealed carry in a process initiated by House Speaker Michael Madigan requiring debates on each separate topic.
But minority Republicans interrupted the schedule twice with lengthy private caucus meetings and stormy public protests about a procedure they claimed was controlled by anti-gun Chicago liberals. They complained the debate makes no sense when the state continues to face a $96 billion pension-system deficit and $9 billion in unpaid bills.
"People are watching this. They know Chicago is the murder capital of the world," said Forsyth Republican Bill Mitchell, adding, "you might have the majority, but you sure as hell can't lead."
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in December that Illinois' last-in-the-nation ban on carrying concealed weapons is unconstitutional and gave the Legislature until June to rectify it.
Phelps had introduced a comprehensive bill on the subject. But Madigan, a fellow Democrat from Chicago, identified an empty bill to be the gun legislation and offered lawmakers the chance to add the language through amendments. They filed 27, including competing provisions on whether the state would allow local police to decide who gets permits or requiring issuing permits to anyone who meets minimum qualifications.
Some of the 27 amendments were withdrawn and didn't get a vote. Nine amendments were passed that ban carrying guns in specific places such as schools, day cares, government buildings, casinos, hospitals, libraries and stadiums.
In many cases, they not only prohibit carrying in those facilities, but in parking lots and adjacent property -- meaning firearms can't be stored in cars while gun-owners go inside.
"You're spray-painting red circles around all these places and at the end of the day, the whole state is going to be red and you won't be able to carry a gun anywhere," Phelps said.
Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon, questioned several of the amendments' individual sponsors about the meaning of "adjacent to" and "nearby" in their amendments. Concealed-carry supporters argued that those terms, in the various amendments, were vague and would create confusion about where a person could carry a gun.
Kay asked one of the amendment sponsors, Rep. Deborah Mell, D-Chicago, about the Bill of Rights' guarantee that citizens may keep and bear arms. Mell replied: "I support the language in the Second Amendment, but I feel it is necessary to put in regulations for the public safety."
Mell sponsored an amendment to prohibit guns on public transit.
Kay asked Mell if she'd feel safer having a gun if an attacker confronted her, or if she'd prefer having to rely on "talking him down."
"What I'd like is trained police officers to take that role, and not armed citizens," Mell said.
Democrats booed and shouted "No!" when Rep. Jim Sacia suggested imposing gun limits across Illinois because of Chicago's homicide problem would be like forcing statewide castration because the city was having "too many kids."
"That was an analogy to show how silly this is," said Sacia, R-Pecatonica, adding that he introduced a bill allowing armed teachers with consent form the local school district. "You bet I used Chicago as an example because you're the folks that want this craziness."
The Madigan procedure, requiring votes on specific issues, allows anti-gun Democrats to record "no" votes on individual provisions even though they might be forced to vote for a final bill in response to the court ruling. It also means Republicans will be on record as opposing what liberals might term "common sense" gun restrictions, such as banning them from schools.
"We're going to play the game. You'll say that we all want violence in schools, which is nonsense," said Rep. Dennis Reboletti, an Elmhurst Republican. "We're the laughingstock of the nation."
Rep. Jerry Costello II, D-Smithton, asked Rep. Ann Williams, D-Chicago, about her amendment, which would have prohibited carrying at places that serve alcohol.
"Have you ever heard of a meat shoot?" Costello asked.
"Thankfully not," Williams replied.
Costello explained that a meat shoot is typically a fundraiser for a worthy cause, where shotguns are fired at targets as a game where meat can be won. Alcohol sometimes is served. Costello said he feared the amendment could outlaw such events.
Williams said a subsequent amendment could possibly be passed, giving local authorities the power to allow such events. Her amendment failed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Contact Political Writer John O'Connor at https://www.twitter.com/apoconnor