EDWARDSVILLE — Madison County State's Attorney Tom Gibbons isn't waiting to see when, or if, Gov. Pat Quinn signs legislation allowing the carrying of firearms in public.
Gibbons announced Thursday that, effective immediately, people can begin carrying concealed weapons on their person or in their vehicle while in Madison County, so long as they meet a few requirements.
Last week, at the end of the state legislature's spring session, lawmakers passed a compromise bill that will allow Illinoisans to carry weapons in public. But the legislation has not yet been signed into law by Quinn, who is a gun-control advocate. In fact there's some speculation that Quinn will veto the bill, even though a federal court has ordered Illinois to allow some form of concealed-carry.
"It serves no just purpose to continue to deny responsible, law-abiding citizens their Constitutional right to bear arms," Gibbons said Thursday. "Continuing to criminally charge citizens for conduct that is constitutionally protected and for which charges would, ultimately, be dismissed, would be unconscionable and a terrible waste of judicial resources. Therefore, we will no longer deny responsible citizens this important right."
Gibbons said a person now will be allowed to carry a weapon in public in Madison County as long as he or she meets these seven requirements:
* The person must possess a valid Firearm Owner's Identification Card. If not an Illinois resident, the person must have a concealed-carry permit, which requires a background check, issued from his or her home state.
* The person must be carrying the firearm for self-defense.
* The person must not be prohibited from possessing a firearm under any court order or statute.
* The firearm must be concealed on the person or in a vehicle, not visible to the public.
* The person must not be engaged in criminal conduct.
* The person must be in compliance with all other federal, state and local laws.
* When asked, the person must inform police officers that he or she is carrying a gun.
By contrast, the legislation approved last week by the Illinois House and Senate is a 168-page bill that contains a slew of regulations and restrictions covering when and where a gun can be carried, and by whom. Those provisions were the subject or protracted and heated debate between downstate lawmakers, who generally support gun rights, and their Chicago-area counterparts, who typically are anti-gun.
For example, the bill would require 16 hours of training in order to obtain a concealed-carry permit. It also would prohibit carrying guns in many public places, including schools, child-care facilities, playgrounds, public parks, amusement parks, airports, libraries, hospitals and on public transit.
In December, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered Illinois to drop its ban on public possession of firearms by June 9. The court has given the state a 30-day extension of the deadline -- to July 9 -- in order to give Quinn sufficient time to review the bill.
Even if Quinn signs the bill, it would likely take months for it to be implemented.
Gibbons said defense attorneys have already begun seeking dismissal of cases involving defendants carrying guns. The prosecutor said he dismissed one case recently in which a cab driver in the Granite City area was carrying a gun.
"He said he wanted to protect himself," Gibbons said. "It seemed very reasonable to me. It can, sometimes, be a dangerous profession."
Gibbons warned citizens to be responsible.
"I cannot overstate the importance of citizens exercising this important right in a responsible manner," Gibbons said. "It is essential that individuals cooperate with any police officer and inform them of the presence of the firearm prior to removing it from its concealed location. Displaying the firearm at a public location or without the request or knowledge of an officer could constitute a violation of the law."
William Schroeder, a professor of law at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, said Gibbons isn't putting himself on too much of a limb with the pronouncement. If a court has already declared the state's ban on concealed-carry to be unconstitutional, it'd be difficult to convict anyone of violating it.
"Even if you did manage to get a conviction, it would end up getting thrown out," Schroeder said. "So what's the point of prosecuting?"
But the prosecutor might be on shaky ground in creating his own concealed-carry rules, Schroeder said, because that's the job of the legislature.
Gibbons said he's not creating any new rules. He said any other existing laws prohibiting possession of guns in certain places remain in effect. For example, he said guns are already prohibited in most government buildings, under state, county or municipal laws.
And he said businesses such as bars still have the ability to prohibit guns on their premises.
"I think this is all going to come down to common sense," Gibbons said. "How does a bar owner enforce any rule in a bar? Put up a sign. Tell people."
He added, "I'm not changing any existing state laws or prohibitions. It's not changing any of the rules."
Contact reporter Brian Brueggemann at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2511.