SPRINGFIELD - Advocates may have a shot at seeing legislation pass allowing Illinois residents to carry concealed firearms.
Almost 8,000 people marched to the State Capitol in Springfield on Wednesday, which was Illinois Gun Owners Lobby Day. Marching among the crowd was Bob Klaus, 73, of Godfrey.
"I began hunting when I was 16 years old, got my first gun then," Klaus said Thursday. "I still hunt and, in fact, am leaving Friday for Arkansas to go snow goose hunting."
Klaus, who retired from Olin Corp. in 1992, said Wednesday was his sixth year participating in the annual Illinois Gun Owners Lobby Day at the State Capitol.
"I believe Illinoisans have a right to carry a concealed weapon," Klaus said. "We have a large National Guard presence here in our state. Those young men and women are thoroughly trained in weapons to not only protect during state and national emergencies but are also sent overseas. Yet, when they come home to Illinois, they aren't even allowed to carry a weapon to defend their own families, just like the rest of us, and that is just not right."
Klaus said Wednesday's march was the largest lobbying event they ever had seen at the Capitol. Sponsored by the Illinois Rifle Association, the annual Gun Owner's Lobby Day encourages all gun owners to attend the event and march to the Capitol. They then visit the Springfield offices of their legislators, where they leave signed cards urging support for varying gun legislation. This year, the cards urge passage of concealed carry legislation.
Klaus said while he did not get to see state Sen. William Haine, D-Alton, or state Rep. Dan Beiser, D-Alton, he has spoken to them in the past and knows they both support concealed carry legislation.
In fact, Beiser has co-sponsored House Bill 462, and state Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, has sponsored House Bill 245; both are concealed carry bills.
In February 2009, the Illinois Sheriff's Association passed a resolution supporting HB 245 (Family and Personal Protection Act); this week, the House Agricultural Committee again approved a concealed carry measure, HB 462, sponsored by state Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg. Beiser is a co-sponsor on the bill.
Under both bills, concealed firearms would not be allowed inside bars, police stations, prisons, government offices, courthouses, airports, schools, riverboats, amusement parks, arenas, stadiums, and churches, similar to concealed carry laws in other states.
However, the Phelps-Beiser HB 462 includes an amendment that might prove problematic for business establishments.
One of HB 462's proposals states that if a business prohibits people from carrying guns in their establishment, the business owner is liable for injuries in armed robberies to gun owners who are disarmed. Beiser was not available Thursday to comment on the amendment.
Businesses usually have the right to set rules in their own establishments, but under HB 462, they would not have the right to keep guns out without the fear of liability.
Proponents of concealed carry in Illinois, the only state other than Wisconsin that doesn't allow concealed carry, are many. From individuals to county boards, legislators have been hearing that concealed carry legislation is wanted.
One example is the Greene County Board, which unanimously passed a resolution in August 2008 to place an advisory question on the November 2008 ballot asking Greene County voters whether they wanted a concealed carry law enacted. Greene County voters overwhelmingly voted yes.
And on Thursday, Charles Landers of Bunker Hill, the Democratic candidate for the 98th Representative District in the November general election, issued a news release supporting gun rights in Washington, D.C., as well as Springfield.
Landers, a lifelong gun owner, defines himself as a conservative, independent-minded Central Illinoisan who believes that citizens are having their rights denied by not being allowed to carry a weapon.
Landers noted that a House committee recently approved legislation allowing for the issuance of concealed carry permits, an idea Landers is committed to advancing.
"I was raised on a farm and with firearms in my home, and we didn't have people walking around like the Wild West shooting at each other," Landers said. "Any notion that concealed carry is leading to more crime is completely unfounded and a desperate talking point for the gun-grabbers in Chicago who can't accept the fact that the people of Central Illinois respect their firearms and their neighbors. I look forward to being a vocal advocate on behalf of gun owners and a strong voice for our values at the State Capitol."
Klaus said one of the speakers at the Illinois Gun Owners Lobby Day was 76-year-old Otis McDonald, a Chicagoan who has sued to overturn that city's gun ban.
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard McDonald's case challenging Chicago's gun ban. McDonald lives in a high-crime neighborhood and fears for his life every night, he told the crowd, but the city of Chicago won't let him protect himself, even though the city's gun ban obviously doesn't work.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's latest data, Illinois had 530 homicides in 2008, and 510 of them happened in Chicago; 421 of those homicides were committed with handguns.
"I don't have any idea why some people say concealed carry would cause crime to go up," Klaus said. "Otis got a standing ovation at the rally Wednesday, and he made a darned good point. Right now, it is the criminals that have the guns, and they will always have the guns. It is just us law-abiding citizens that don't. And that has to change. The law-abiding citizens have the right to concealed carry to be able to protect themselves if necessary."
Klaus may have a point, as well. According to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report of 2007, states with right-to-carry laws had a 30 percent lower homicide rate, 46 percent lower robbery, 12 percent lower aggravated assault rate and a 22 percent lower overall violent crime rate than did states without such laws.
"As the U.S. Supreme Court considers striking down the Chicago handgun ban law and affirming the rights to gun owners guaranteed by the Constitution, and as the state Legislature again pushes for concealed carry, a lot of momentum exists for gun rights," Landers said in his news release. "For me, having a firearm is about family tradition, our basic rights under the Constitution, and protecting oneself and one's family."