Gun Issue Takes On Unique Role In Illinois

fromWBEZ

Illinois is the only state that bans people from carrying concealed weapons. But that will have to change later this year because of a federal court mandate.

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Illinois is the only state that has a complete ban on carrying concealed weapons. Late last year, a federal court declared that law unconstitutional. Both the law and the court ruling have given Illinois a prominent place in the wider, national debate over gun control. Here's Tony Arnold of our member station WBEZ in Chicago.

TONY ARNOLD, BYLINE: The center of the guns debate in Illinois is here at the state capitol in Springfield. It's gun lobby day, a coordinated effort where hundreds of people who oppose gun restrictions have come to lobby lawmakers debating measures like enacting concealed carry or banning certain types of high-capacity guns. And it's brought people like Brian Uhlenhake here to deliver this message to lawmakers.

BRIAN UHLENHAKE: Just to show our need for our rights in terms of the ability to have self-defense, and primarily concealed carry.

ARNOLD: What do you think about Chicago?

UHLENHAKE: I think they're way off base. I don't understand why they fear having trained and armed civilians being able to protect themselves.

ARNOLD: Uhlenhake is referring Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Emanuel has been critical of a recent court action that ruled Illinois' ban on carrying concealed weapons unconstitutional.

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MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL: This ruling runs counter, to me, not only common sense, but what every police chief in the country thinks, which is we should not allow more guns on the street. And I think it's wrong. I think it's wrong-headed.

ARNOLD: Mayor Emanuel is taking on the gun industry in his attempts to curb shootings in the city. But despite Emanuel's resistance, the state legislature is working against a June deadline to pass any sort of concealed carry legislation. If they don't, lawmakers fear that anybody could legally carry any type of gun anywhere in the state.

But even the presence of a firm deadline doesn't mean the guns debate here is any more civil than the rest of the country. Take Republican State Representative Jim Sacia from rural western Illinois, who applied some colorful language to describe the differences between Chicago and rural Illinois when it comes to guns.

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STATE REPRESENTATIVE JIM SACIA: You folks in Chicago want me to get castrated because your families are having too many kids.

ARNOLD: Sacia had to clarify that, saying Chicago public officials want strict gun regulations across the entire state, even though rural parts of the state don't see the violence the city sees. After seven hours of debate last week, lawmakers approved measures banning guns at schools, casinos, libraries, and buses and trains.

FORREST CLAYPOOL: Concealed carry in other environments may work very well. On a crowded train or bus or platform at a station, it's a recipe for disaster.

ARNOLD: That's Forrest Claypool, head of the Chicago Transit Authority, who says the most common crime on buses and trains is snatch-and-grab. And adding concealed guns to that mix could lead to bystanders getting shot. Eugene Kontorovich says lawmakers have to be careful about where they restrict guns. He teaches law at Northwestern University.

EUGENE KONTOROVICH: If you were to take a map of Chicago and superimpose all these restrictions on it, it would look like Swiss cheese.

ARNOLD: Kontorovich says Illinois is leading the nation in strict gun regulations, and making a long list of where guns are banned could create more legal challenges.

KONTOROVICH: You can't get from most places to most other places without crossing one of these forbidden zones. So it's another way of saying, look, we're allowing it, but in practice, to effectively deny it.

ARNOLD: Meantime, opponents of more gun regulations, like Brian Uhlenhake, say all the regulations in Chicago haven't meant much to the people using guns to commit crimes.

UHLENHAKE: How do you explain 500 gun-related deaths? And you can't tell me that those gun-related deaths are committed by law-abiding citizens.

ARNOLD: Chicago also saw a particularly violent January. And while city officials changed policing strategies to try to reduce crime, lawmakers continue to bicker over gun policies and what role guns should play in day-to-day lives. For NPR News, I'm Tony Arnold.

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