A compromise allowing the carrying of concealed weapons backed by House Speaker Michael Madigan and agreed to by the General Assembly's leading gun-rights advocate materialized Wednesday, adding to the list of gun-free locales but making it easier for qualified gun owners to get permits.
Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, emerged from a closed-door meeting of his caucus late in the afternoon, saying the reworked version of southern Illinois Rep. Brandon Phelps' measure would get its first test with a committee vote Thursday.
A House floor tally would follow a day later, just 16 days before the deadline for establishing a concealed carry law set by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals when it decreed the state's last-in-the-nation ban unconstitutional.
Phelps said the plan is a framework for a "shall issue" law, meaning the Illinois State Police would be required to issue a permit to anyone with a Firearm Owners Identification card who has the requisite training and clears a criminal background check.
"All we're doing here is making sure the good guys have guns," said Phelps, D-Harrisburg. "Right now, the only ones that have the guns are the bad guys."
Phelps agreed to a higher fee to get a permit and 16 hours of training — double what he earlier proposed. But fending off antigun forces' suggestions to ban guns in parking lots — essentially preventing a gun owner from packing on the way to work — Phelps won a provision that allows storage of a gun in an automobile. "That's your safe harbor," he said.
Still, the legislation is geared toward drawing Chicago Democrats' votes by making more locations off limits to firearms, including public transportation — a priority for many Chicagoans wary of a slew of firearms on mass-transit buses and trains. Festivals and special events — a mainstay of summertime Chicago — would restrict guns, along with parks and playgrounds, hospitals, zoos and museums.
"It would provide that Illinois would join the rest of the nation, issue permits to carry weapons," Madigan said. "There'll be a very long list of prohibitive locations."
The measure is a breakthrough in a divisive, emotional issue in which a federal court order is forcing lawmakers' hands. Chicago banned all handguns until the U.S. Supreme Court overturned it in 2010. Central and southern Illinois residents, whether Democrat or Republican, are more conservative and more protective of the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
But last month, a "may issue" proposal — allowing police to veto permits even to those who were otherwise qualified — failed in the House along with the more permissive Phelps version. The Senate made little more headway. A plan there to set up a separate "endorsement" process to carry guns in Chicago and to give larger cities the ability to add locations that would restrict guns was set for a vote last week before the sponsor begged off, pleading lack of votes.
The fee for obtaining a concealed carry permit in the House plan would be $150 for five years in the new proposal, up from $100 initially proposed. Of that, $120 would go to the Illinois State Police to administer the program, $20 to support mental health reporting and $10 for the state's crime laboratories.
Todd Vandermyde, lobbyist for the National Rifle Association in Illinois, said outside the closed-door House Democrats' caucus meeting that it was too early to comment on the plan. Richard Pearson of the Illinois State Rifle Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Even though it's considered a "shall issue" plan, Phelps retained language allowing local law enforcement officials, such as county sheriffs, to object to a concealed-carry permit application even for someone who otherwise qualifies.
And state police denials of permits could be appealed to a statewide licensing review board. Its members would be appointed by the governor and would have to include members with experience as a federal judge, a Justice Department attorney, and with criminal justice experience in agencies such as the FBI or Department of Homeland Security. Others would have to be physicians or medical professionals with expertise in treating mental illness.