Gun proponents narrowly failed to shepherd their favored version of a concealed-carry gun bill through the Illinois House on Thursday.
The bill needed 71 votes and failed 64-45. The bill's passage would have been a step in determining how loose or restrictive the state will be in allowing Illinoisans to carry firearms.
Since a federal appeals court ruled in December that Illinois must abandon its status as the nation's last state to prohibit the concealed carry of firearms, gun-rights advocates have been frustrated by Chicago Democrats, who have their own ideas about what shape that law should take.
The bill's co-sponsors, Rep. Jerry Costello II, D-Smithton, and Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, worked their Democratic colleagues all day on the House floor and in the hallways, trying to round up the needed 71 votes.
Phelps said the bill was "the best bill we've had in a long time" on the concealed-carry issue, the result of much negotiation, with ingredients from a number of previous attempts at getting the legislation passed.
Afterward, Phelps said he remains hopeful that a concealed-carry bill can pass.
"We're not going to give up. We've still got time," Phelps said.
Phelps said gun supporters have already made many concessions on the legislation, in hope of appeasing opponents, but members of his camp are "tired of giving." He added, "I don't know what else we can give on."
Costello said afterward that one of the hang-ups for opponents was that the proposal allowed carrying a gun on public transportation. He said gun supporters don't want a person to be denied the right to carry a gun just because they're reliant on public transportation, but there might be some wiggle room on that issue.
"We'll see what happens there," Costello said.
During floor debate, Costello said prohibiting the carrying of firearms denies the rights of Illinoisans.
"The Second Amendment of our Constitution gives your the right to bear arms, not own arms, bear arms," Costello said. He also argued that strict gun prohibitions in Chicago "do not work, and the statistics prove it."
Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon, told colleagues the federal court's ruling means that if no concealed-carry law is passed, Illinoisans would be allowed to carry weapons in public with almost no restrictions.
"Ladies and gentlemen, the court has clearly, without any ambiguity, told us what we must do," Kay said. "For years, we have been denied our Second Amendment rights, and the court has given us 180 days to fix it."
Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville, also spoke on the floor in support of the bill. "Law-abiding citizens have the right to protect themselves and their families from criminals," Meier said.
Opponents of the bill pointed out what they consider to be its flaws. Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, noted that carrying a gun would not be prohibited on playgrounds and on public transportation. Cassidy said she grew up around hunting, but "the only hunting that's happening in my neighborhood is of young men."
Rep. William Davis, D-Chicago, said concealed-carry might be OK for many parts of the state, but not Chicago. He said he hopes House members are prepared to "stand up and give moments of silence" for people who get harmed because of concealed-carry.
Rep. David Reis, R-Olney, argued that Chicago is "not an island," and noted that every other state has a form of concealed-carry. "We know that it's not going to be the wild, wild west," he argued.
Reis also said Chicago's violence problem is due to the city being "gang-riddled," and that "they know the only people who've got weapons is the police officers."
The bill under consideration Thursday would create a "shall issue" law, under which the state would have to issue a concealed-carry permit to anyone who passes a background check and meets certain requirement. Local police would be allowed, however, to file an objection to a person's permit application.
On Wednesday, the House voted 31-76 to defeat Cassidy's bill that would have made Illinois' concealed-carry law a "may issue" law. Under such a law, county and city officials would have been able to weigh in on whether a person deserves a concealed-carry permit. They'd have to make a finding that the applicant has a legitimate need for carrying a gun.
Opponents of a "may issue" law argued that a law of that type would end up being like New York's, where permits mainly go to celebrities and those with connections. Opponents also said it would effectively prohibit anyone from obtaining a concealed-carry permit in Chicago or Cook County, where local officials are mostly anti-gun.
The 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals declared Illinois' ban on concealed carry unconstitutional and gave the state until early June to enact a law.
The issue has been divisive in the House, but mostly along regional lines, rather than political ones. Downstate lawmakers, representing hunters and other gun owners, have mostly been pro-gun, while Chicago-area lawmakers have pushed for gun restrictions, citing violence in that city.
After the vote, Meier said it's "a sad day that the city of Chicago has again dictated what all the residents of Illinois can or cannot do, even denying us our constitutional rights."
The bill is House Bill 997. One particular amendment to the bill -- amendment 9 -- is the current version of the bill.
How representatives from the metro-east voted:
Rep. Dan Beiser, D-Alton: Yes
Rep. John Cavaletto, R-Salem: Yes
Rep. Jerry Costello II, D-Smithon: Yes
Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Belleville: Yes
Rep. Eddie Lee Jackson, D-East St. Louis: Yes
Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon: Yes
Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville: Yes