Chicagoans lament passage of concealed-carry law in Illinois

CHICAGO—As Illinois rushed to pass the country’s final concealed-carry law by the July 9th federally mandated deadline, residents who live in gun-riddled Chicago strongly disapproved of the legislation, saying it could only make the dangerous city streets worse.

The Illinois State Senate Tuesday voted 41-17 to override Gov. Pat Quinn’s amendatory veto after the House voted 77-31, margins that met the necessary three-fifths threshold. Quinn used his veto power to suggest changes that would limit gun-toting residents to one firearm at a time and prohibit guns in restaurants serving alcohol.

“Following a weekend of horrific violence in Chicago in which at least 70 people were shot and 12 killed, this was the wrong move for public safety in Illinois,” Quinn said in a statement, a day after  signing into law two crime-fighting pieces of legislation.

‘Disaster waiting to happen’

But after both chambers overruled Quinn’s proposed changes to the concealed-carry law, Chicagoans blasted the newly-passed legislation calling it “unsafe” and a “disaster waiting to happen.”

“I understand that we all have the right to bear arms, but how is that going to reduce the crime rate?” asked Daisy Southward-Black, who grew up on the West Side of Chicago. “I think we’ll become more reactionary. We’ve got a gun in our pocket and there’s this shadow looming beside us that intends us no harm whatsoever. Is that a casualty, just because of our nervousness?”

Under the new legislation, anyone with a Firearm Owner’s Identification card who has passed a background check and undergone 16 hours of gun-safety training—the longest of any state—may obtain a concealed-carry permit for $150.

Cy Fields, a pastor, community leader on the city’s West Side and advocate for “common-sense” gun legislation, said he’s worried that the amount of training necessary isn’t sufficient.

“That is substantially less than what’s required of our law enforcement who go through continuous training, situational training, not just how to operate a firearm, but situations, when a situation called for you to fire. It’s not just getting trigger-happy or when you get excited, when you feel threatened and maybe there’s no threat there,” Fields said. He added, “I think in many ways, it’s still places, the community at large, in danger, especially in an urban society where there’s already a gun problem. I believe you don’t solve a gun problem with more guns on the street.”

Will more bullets fly?

Denice, 38, who didn’t want to give her last name because she is a city worker said, “Now the assumption is going to be everyone else has a gun.” Twenty-three-year-old Sean Robinson was shot in the head by a stray bullet on Jan. 1, 2012, and shares her sentiment. “I’m concerned that more bullets will fly as a result of this law. I am always cautious about that, seeing as though I got shot, so I’m always watching my surroundings,” Robinson said.

“I don’t like that, because you can snap at any time,” said Barbara Hickbottom, 52, who said her main concern is the necessity for a mental evaluation of those obtaining concealed-carry permits. “You don’t know what you’re capable of doing. If someone just ran up on me and tried to attack me, what would I do with a gun? The first thing I’ll do is try to protect myself.”

William Gordon, 22, who said he’s going into basic training for U.S. Army this summer said, “People who shouldn’t carry firearms on a regular basis are going to try to apply for the concealed carry, which probably means that’s going to be more unnecessary violence on the streets of Chicago than there is now.”

Although the first concealed-carry permits will not be issued for at least 270 days in Illinois, Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association—the local branch of the National Rifle Association—says the legislation, which passed favorably upon the organization, still needs work.

“I think the training is too long and the fee is too high, but we’ll have to work on that. We’ve at least got a start and so those things can be dealt with,” Pearson said, adding that, “I think it will eventually drive down the crime rates in Illinois.”

Asked about concerns Chicago residents have, given the volume of gun crimes that have happened Pearson said, “All those crimes in Illinois were not committed by law-abiding citizens. Nor with any of them, not one person had a FOID card. They were all perpetrated against innocent people, and now innocent people have a chance to defend themselves.”

Pearson continued, saying, “I think that some of these people who are doing street crime, home invasions, things like that, had better rethink their position, because now, but not until our 270 days, people will be able to defend themselves, and so they might want to try to find work. Maybe to get a job.”

Pearson said although Illinois may have one of the most stringent laws in the country, locally, municipalities “need to enforce the laws on the books” to deter repeat offenders and new criminals. “That’s why these guys are doing it, because they know that they can get away with it,” he said.

A blow to the governor

Illinois Senate Democrats praised the legislation that Quinn said showed how they “surrendered to the National Rifle Association.”

Senator Linda Holmes, of Aurora, said, “After months of negotiations with everyone involved on this issue, the legislature reached a consensus. It is unfortunate that the governor did not sign the bill that was initially passed. Once again we voted to protect the second amendment rights of Illinois citizens.”

Echoing Holmes’ views, Senator Steve Stadelman of Rockford said Tuesday, “Today, the legislature followed through on our promise to make concealed carry the law in Illinois. Our legislation protects the rights of gun owners while insuring that we have commonsense safeguards.”

Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel called a special City Council session for next Wednesday to deal with the new concealed-carry law. He said the council will discuss measures to strengthen Chicago’s ban on assault weapons. Chicago and other Illinois cities and municipalities have 10 days after the Tuesday concealed-carry vote to pass updated or new legislation concerning assault weapons.

Quinn vowed to continue fighting the legislation at the state level. “We will keep fighting for these critical provisions that will save lives and establish a better, more responsible concealed-carry law in Illinois.”

Renita D. Young is a Chicago-based multimedia journalist. Follow her on Twitter @RenitaDYoung.