Residents in some Illinois counties sent a message to lawmakers this week: Give citizens the right to carry concealed weapons.
Measures supporting concealed carry were on the ballot Tuesday in at least 10 mostly rural counties -- Adams, Bond, Henry, McDonough, Mercer, Randolph, Rock Island, Schuyler, Stephenson and Warren -- and passed overwhelmingly in every one.
The votes were nonbinding because local law cannot override state law. But advocates say they hope to build pressure on lawmakers to support concealed carry.
Illinois is the only state where carrying a concealed weapon is entirely illegal.
"I think the message will be heard," because some counties that voted on the issue were in more Democrat-leaning northwest parts of the state, said Valinda Rowe, spokeswoman for IllinoisCarry, a group that tracks gun-rights advocacy around the state. She lives in rural White County in southeastern Illinois.
"Hopefully (the Democratic leadership) will see a correlation here that there is widespread support for this issue," Rowe said.
She acknowledged it could be difficult to get a supermajority of lawmakers to approve concealed carry, even though the Illinois House last year only narrowly defeated a bill that would have legalized the practice. What's more, Gov. Pat Quinn has said he would veto any bill approving concealed carry and Chicago anti-gun forces vowed to put up a spirited fight.
Colleen Daley, executive director of the Chicago-based Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, said the county measures don't change the conversation.
"They were ... from areas that always have been supportive of concealed carry, but were not even on the ballot in counties where they would have had more impact," Daley said.
She also believes some newly elected Democratic lawmakers oppose concealed carry.
There is a chance, though, that the issue will be decided by the courts.
The National Rifle Association is representing a southern Illinois woman who sued in federal court for the right to carry a concealed weapon after being attacked while working at her church. The U.S. District Court in southern Illinois ruled in favor of the state, and the case was appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago, which heard arguments this summer. A ruling is pending from a three-judge panel.
Rowe said there is no reason to ban concealed carry if there are common-sense restrictions. She said the last bill required background checks, fingerprinting, mandatory firearms-safety courses, and limits on where a gun could be carried -- for example, not in federal buildings or schools.
Daley said her group would fight legalization "tooth and nail" but doesn't consider it the most pressing issue. The council is pushing for legislation that would require gun owners to report if their firearm was lost or stolen -- a measure she said is aimed at cutting down on straw purchasers, people who buy guns and sell them to people who would not qualify to buy them on their own.