Illinois State Police: Try to conceal carry, you'll be arrested

News-DemocratJune 7, 2013 

— Madison County's prosecutor won't file charges against you for violating the state's ban on carrying a concealed weapon, but that doesn't mean a police officer won't arrest you for it.

The Illinois State Police says troopers will "continue to enforce Illinois' current unlawful use of weapon statute in all jurisdictions."

The ISP issued a public advisory Thursday evening, just hours after Madison County State's Attorney Tom Gibbons announced that citizens can immediately begin carrying concealed weapons in public in Madison County. Gibbons said it "serves no just purpose" to charge someone with violating the concealed-weapons ban because a federal appeals court has declared it unconstitutional.

ISP spokeswoman Monique Bond said the agency decided to issue its advisory after receiving numerous inquiries from the public about the status of the law. She said there appears to be some uncertainty among the public, in part because of Gibbons' announcement and in part because there's a pending concealed-carry law that has been approved by the legislature but not signed into law by the governor.

Bond said the advisory means that a trooper, even in Madison County, "will make an arrest" of anyone violating the concealed-weapons ban.

Bond said she didn't know exactly what would happen to a person after being arrested, but the person likely would be detained.

"It's unlawful use of a weapon, so that's pretty serious; it's a felony," she said. "They could go to jail for that, definitely."

The person presumably would be released, eventually, because Gibbons said he won't charge the person.

"I don't have the authority to tell State Police who to arrest and who not to arrest," Gibbons said Friday. "All I can tell them is what will happen when they bring those cases to my office."

Gibbons said he discussed the matter beforehand with leaders at ISP headquarters in Collinsville.

"We talked about the practical implications," Gibbons said. "We had a good, thorough discussion about it, but they didn't express a formal opinion on behalf of Illinois State Police. But we certainly talked to them about it."

Bond said the ISP advisory was issued in conjunction with the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police as well as the Illinois Sheriffs Association.

Madison County Sheriff Robert Hertz, who is a member of the sheriffs association and a former president of the group, said Friday he had not been contacted about the advisory. Hertz said his deputies will not arrest anyone for violating the concealed-weapons ban.

"The state's attorney is the chief law enforcement officer in the county, and for me to unilaterally go against the direction he's given would be pretty risky on my part," Hertz said. "If he's saying that he will not prosecute people, then how am I going to tell my deputies to go out and arrest people for this? I can't unilaterally charge people."

Municipal police departments in Madison County were referring questions Friday to Gibbons' office. Gibbons said no municipal police departments in the county have had any problems with his new protocol for handling such cases.

Gibbons on Thursday said, effective immediately, anyone can carry a weapon in public in Madison County, so long as they meet 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.

St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly was not immediately available for comment Friday on whether he'll consider a similar approach in his county.

Current Illinois law prohibits the carrying of an immediately accessible or loaded firearm on your person or in your vehicle regardless of whether it is concealed. Violators are subject to arrest.

The Illinois Legislature passed concealed-carry legislation during its recent session under order of a federal appeals court, which ruled the state's ban unconstitutional. That legislation is awaiting action by Gov. Pat Quinn, a gun-control advocate who hasn't said if he will sign it or not.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday gave Illinois an extra 30 days to lift its ban on concealed weapons.

State Rep. Jerry Costello II, D-Smithton, who was one of the lead negotiators on the concealed-carry legislation, said Quinn ought to just sign the bill and end the problem.

"I believe the governor should signed the concealed-carry bill on his desk. It's time the people of Illinois are able to practice their Constitutional right, and law-abiding citizens of Illinois can protect themselves like the citizens of 49 other states in our country," Costello said.

Every other state has some form of law that allows carrying weapons in public.

Some of Gibbons' colleagues across Illinois believe he's jumping the gun as Quinn still weighs the bill.

"We are a nation of laws, and we should follow the law and not pick and choose which ones we're going to follow," said Chuck Garnati, who's in his eighth four-year term as the top prosecutor in southern Illinois' Williamson County. "I commend the Legislature for passing the conceal law and sending it to Gov. Quinn. But until he signs it, it's not the law in Illinois. That's the bottom line."

While the 7th Circuit's nullifying Illinois' ban may have spurred confusion, "that does not by any authority I'm familiar with allow state's attorneys to interpret the law or fashion their own version when we don't know what the law will be," said Jon Barnard, top prosecutor in Adams County in western Illinois.

"State's attorneys are not legislators, and I think the most prudent course is to treat the law the way it is now -- enforceable," Barnard said.

Still, Gibbons' move isn't without precedent. The appointed state's attorney in central Illinois' McLean County announced last summer that he no longer would enforce what he called the state's unconstitutional, antiquated ban on concealed weapons. Ronald Dozier said then he hoped that would "make a statement to the Legislature."

Dozier, a retired judge, stepped down last October and was replaced in the state's attorney role by Jason Chambers, who said his office doesn't have an all-out ban on prosecuting violators of Illinois' concealed-carry prohibition and instead uses discretion in deciding which cases to take to court.

"Every case, every circumstance, every victim is individual," Chambers said Friday, calling the timing of Gibbons' move "baffling in that here the Legislature is on the verge of passing something and people are making announcements like this."

"It seems gimmicky," he said. "Counties shouldn't be fiefdoms."

In Granite City, Shannon McEntyre applauds Gibbons' moxie. The owner of Rainbow Taxi Service said her 15 drivers deserve the right to carry guns for protection -- and the sooner, the better.

"I'm all for it, because it is our Second Amendment right," said McEntyre, 43. "We should have had this a long time ago, and it's ridiculous we're the only state that doesn't."

Associated Press reporter Jim Suhr contributed to this report.

Contact reporter Brian Brueggemann at bbrueggemann@bnd.com or 239-2511.

Contact reporter Brian Brueggemann at bbrueggemann@bnd.com or 239-2511.

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