SPRINGFIELD -- An Illinois senator seeking restrictions on how people may carry concealed guns softened the bill's rules Friday but decided against a floor vote before later disparaging unnamed "extremists" he described as using "intimidation" to oppose the measure.
Sen. Kwame Raoul passionately defended the limitations he proposed in his concealed-carry bill and vowed to keep pushing them while explaining to reporters he skipped a floor test because his roll call fell too short. But the Democrat from Chicago called out opponents he would not name but are clearly members of the National Rifle Association. "I think you know," he said.
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"There are some extremists with some very loyal followers and they use intimidation as part of their advocacy efforts and sometimes that intimidation is quite effective," Raoul said. "I expected to present a bill, but for a day at least, the extremists have prevailed."
Todd Vandermyde, Illinois lobbyist for the NRA, which nationally has 5 million members, was perplexed.
"I don't poke my finger in anybody's chest," Vandermyde said. "I haven't raised my voice to anybody on this."
He said he'd had a series of "low-key, quiet, normal conversations" with state senators.
"We've been quite reserved," the lobbyist said. "I testified in committee. We've been making our case with talking points to legislators. If his proposal is a bad proposal and legislators see the flaws in it, so be it."
Lawmakers have until June 9 to develop a plan for allowing trained gun owners who have Firearm Owners Identification cards and pass criminal background checks to apply for permits to carry concealed weapons. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declared Illinois' ban on conceal-and-carry unconstitutional in December.
Raoul's measure got Senate Executive Committee approval Thursday on a party-line vote but was buffeted by criticism because it required applicants to be of "good moral character" and show a "proper reason" for carrying. Raoul dropped the character test with an amendment Friday, but the "reason" language remains.
Raoul, who took President Barack Obama's seat when Obama entered the U.S. Senate in 2005 and who lives blocks from the president's Chicago home, zealously defended his attempts to protect public safety while balancing the Second Amendment rights of gun owners.
He said despite his stable neighborhood, he witnessed a drive-by shooting across the street a year ago, followed months later by a "shootout" at the end of the block. He said his approach to the issue is "with sensitivity to this from personal experience, realizing that there are some on a daily basis that deal with far more threatening environments than I have to deal with."
The issue in the House has been dormant for weeks, although gun-rights supporter Rep. Brandon Phelps, a Harrisburg Democrat, says talks continue. His more permissive proposal for allowing gun owners to carry firearms failed narrowly last month.
Opponents have also objected to Raoul's idea for a separate "endorsement" from Chicago police for gun owners wanting to carry in that city and for larger communities to be able to add to the statewide list of places where guns would be prohibited. Such measures would create a "patchwork" of differing rules that gun-toting citizens would have difficulty following, they say.
But Raoul said if gun-rights supporters don't negotiate a compromise by June 9, the existing law will be invalidated and cities will start enacting their own -- potentially more constricting -- rules.
"While concessions have been made, I for my part will not concede anything that compromises public safety," Raoul said. "And if that means going to the end where there's a stalemate and it will be up to local municipalities to enact ordinances ... they'll see a far worse patchwork that they'll have to try to navigate than the compromise that was proposed in my bill."