Oak Park, Illinois officials ponder concealed weapons options
| John H. White~Chicago Sun-Times.
Updated: January 21, 2013 2:20PM
OAK PARK — Local and state officials are assessing their options in the wake of a federal appellate court ruling that set aside Illinois’ ban on carrying concealed weapons.
At the same time, a long-time local gun rights advocate wants a state-wide referendum on the issue.
On Dec. 12, a 2-1 ruling from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned two lower court rulings and ordered Illinois to craft new laws allowing the public carriage of guns.
Judge Richard Posner wrote the 20-page opinion for the 2-1 majority; joining him was Judge Joel Martin Flaum.
Posner wrote that he was “disinclined” to revisit the historical arguments on whether the now-established Second Amendment right to keep guns in the home includes the right to carry guns in public.
“The Supreme Court has decided that the (second) amendment confers a right to bear arms for self-defense, which is as important outside the home as inside,” Posner wrote. “Illinois has lots of options for protecting its people from being shot without having to eliminate all possibility of armed self-defense in public.”
Judge Ann C. Williams authored a 27-page dissenting opinion questioning the basis for Posner’s conclusions.
“In the absence of clearer indication that the Second Amendment codified a generally recognized right to bear arms in public for self-defense, I would leave this judgment in the hands of the State of Illinois,” Williams concluded.
State Sen. Don Harmon (D-39, Oak Park) said he and other state officials will take the next few weeks to assess what he termed “a significant change in the law.”
First, though, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan must decide whether her office will appeal the 2-1 ruling.
If there is no appeal, Harmon said, the legislature would take up the issue of how to craft new legislation that comports with the appellate court ruling.
“Once we’ve assessed it all, we’ll have a debate in the spring session,” Harmon said.
David Schweig, a long-time Oak Park gun rights advocate, called for both a statewide referendum on concealed carry and a local committee to study the issue and advise on a local ordinance.
“I could be smug and saw, ‘Screw you, we won,’ but that’s not the way to do things,” Schweig said.
“It’s about time we stand up and say let’s have a referendum on this issue and let the people speak,” he added. “I have little doubt the overwhelming majority of citizens would say they want concealed carry.”
At numerous points in his ruling Posner notes the history of restrictions on the right to bear arms in public.
However, he also found “an arbitrary difference” between the treatment of guns in the home and guns carried in public.
“Based on available empirical data, therefore, we expect relatively little public safety impact if courts invalidate laws that prohibit gun carrying outside the home, assuming that some sort of permit system for public carry is allowed to stand.”
Posner suggested Illinois was unlikely to craft a less restrictive law on concealed carry outside the home, as “obviously this is not a state that has a strong pro-gun culture.”
Oak Park Village President David Pope expects state officials “would be reaching out to the localities to discuss what the implications are of various proposals.”
In the absence of a formal appeal of the ruling, both Pope and Harmon expect the focus will turn to crafting a new law with restrictions on carrying concealed weapons.
“In that context, the question is what latitude exists for reasonable regulation,” Pope said, who noted the federal courts have found that such regulations are consistent with recent court rulings.
Oak Park Police Chief Rick Tanksley said he wasn’t surprised by the appeal court’s ruling, given that Illinois was the last state still banning concealed weapons.
“I do not subscribe to the belief that more guns on the street translates to a safer community for citizens and police officers,” Tanksley said. “In addition, a comprehensive and mandatory training program to educate gun owners who choose to carry a concealed weapon should be a part of any new legislation.”
Schweig called for the equivalent of the bi-partisan Simpson-Bowles commission for gun regulation.
“I’d like to see Oak Park be preeminent in creating an ordinance that would be kind of groundbreaking in terms of being rational and representing both sides of the issue,” he said.