SPRINGFIELD -- An Illinois House panel on gun issues opened Tuesday with a debate over how pressing the deadline is to pass the state's first concealed carry law.
The hearing is an initial effort to get testimony on an issue that is expected to be at the forefront for state lawmakers this year.
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"We want to hear from all sides to get input on this and other firearms related issues," state Rep. Elaine Nekritz, a Northbrook Democrat who chaired the hearing, said before inviting expert testimony.
Hanging over the nearly three-hour hearing is a federal appeals court's decision in December mandating that state lawmakers pass a concealed carry law within 180 days, a period that ends June 9.
"We have a court order, it is as simple as that," state Rep. Dennis Reboletti, an Elmhurst Republican and gun rights supporter, said.
However, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has appealed the federal court's decision. And Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Paul Castiglione said he believes prosecutors would be able to bring charges under the existing law even after the deadline.
If the first hearing is any indication, the debate promises to be a vibrant one. For one, there seems to be no shortage of voices on the subject of concealed carry.
Before inviting the first of the four panels of experts to speak before the committee, Nekritz said that "thousands" have filed as witnesses to speak on the issue.
In addition, Nekritz had to remind the standing-room-only crowd in the committee room to refrain from calling out or applauding during the proceeding.
One of the speakers was the mother of the youngest victim in the 2008 massacre at Northern Illinois University. Mary Kay Mace, mother of 19-year-old Ryann Mace of Carpentersville, asked lawmakers to give local police a say in issuing future permits to carry concealed weapons.
Mace said that county sheriffs often know the people in jurisdictions better than criminal background checks or mental health histories might reveal. The NIU shooter was a former graduate student with a history of mental illness who nonetheless was able to buy weapons legally.
"Many local law enforcement officials in smaller and rural areas know their citizens personally. These local officers are well aware of who stumbles out of the bar after having imbibed too much," Mace said.
"These local officers know which of their citizens is a hothead who menaces his or her spouse."
The House will have another hearing on guns Friday in Chicago.
• Daily Herald news services contributed to this report.