St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly said Wednesday he'll use "prosecutorial discretion" in determining whether a person carrying a gun in public should be charged with a crime, but it's too early to issue any policy changes on the concealed-carry issue.
Kelly said he's a supporter of a person's right to carry a gun, but issuing a concealed-carry protocol for St. Clair County at this point would only create confusion, especially while the law is in a state of flux.
"I support concealed-carry and always have because I think it's a logical interpretation of the Second Amendment. But this legal mess may be far from over, and any guidelines would have to be changed within weeks if not days," Kelly said.
"When I had Navy weapons training we learned if you're going to shoot you better shoot to kill, so I am going to hold my fire and not revisit and revise every few days, because all that does is create more confusion for lawful gun owners and law enforcement."
Kelly made his statement as law enforcement officials from counties to his north, south and east have said they're going to allow residents to carry weapons, with restrictions.
Madison County State's Attorney Tom Gibbons said last week that he won't prosecute anyone for carrying a concealed weapon, as long as the person isn't breaking any other laws and abides by a few other requirements, such as having a gun permit. But Illinois State Police said troopers will continue to arrest people for carrying guns in public, even in Madison County.
Later, Randolph County State's Attorney Jeremy Walker issued a decree similar to the one issued by Gibbons. And Clinton County Sheriff Mike Kreke has stated his deputies won't arrest someone who is carrying a concealed weapon, if the person has concealed-carry permission from another state or jurisdiction, and the person isn't otherwise breaking any laws.
"These are difficult issues, which each prosecutor must decide based on their own experiences and circumstances," Kelly said. "I believe we're going to have concealed carry one way or another and it will come properly within the rule of law. As in any case, we'll exercise prosecutorial discretion with respect for rights, public safety, and justice as this unfolds. I hope the bill gets signed soon."
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 had 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 bill just arrived last week and we are reviewing it carefully," Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said Wednesday.
Last week, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals gave Illinois an extra 30 days to lift its ban on concealed weapons.
Kelly noted that there are a number of possible scenarios on what happens next with the legislation:
* The governor could sign the bill.
* The governor could veto it but have the veto overridden by the General Assembly.
* The governor could veto the bill and the General Assembly could fail to override the veto, which would result in "constitutional carry" with few restrictions. But in that scenario, each of the roughly 200 home-rule cities in the state could enact their own laws, each of which would likely be challenged in court.
Another possibility is that Attorney General Lisa Madigan will appeal the federal court's original ruling.
"St. Clair County relies heavily on the Illinois State Police in high-crime areas, and they along with the 25 other police agencies in our county have a wide range of views on this issue," Kelly said. "So I am in discussions with them about how to implement concealed-carry in a consistent way under several legal scenarios."
Kelly said there are two other factors he is taking under consideration:
* What happens to people who have been convicted, or will be convicted, under the law that has been determined to be unconstitional?
"Presumably some form of post-conviction action does or will exist to set aside those convictions of people who were otherwise eligible to obtain aconcealed-carrypermit, but were convicted under the old (current) Unlawful Use of Weaponsstatute," he said.
* What about people who threaten to sue if they're prosecuted under the unconstitutional law, on grounds that their rights have been willfully violated?
"Prosecutors have to carefully consider our actions in light of the threat, however unlikely it may be, to a civil suit and the resulting costs of defense," he said.
Contact reporter Brian Brueggemann at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2511.