Illinois the epicenter of national debate about gun control
Type the word "Illinois" into any Internet search engine for news and the stories that pop up depress us -- high gas prices, flooding, the corruption retrial of one of our felonious former governors, random crimes and even a business story about how New Jersey's debt woes resulted in a financial rating barely higher than the one assigned to Illinois.
Even news that Illinois finally is in the top 10 in something is going to depress or anger some of you. When it comes to sensible gun laws, Illinois is the ninth-best state in the union, according to a report card released Wednesday by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence (www.bradycampaign.org), the gun-control advocacy group that grew out of the shooting of an Illinois native. Since Jim Brady, the press secretary to President Ronald Reagan, was critically wounded in the head during a 1981 assassination attempt, he and his wife, Sarah, have become national leaders in the gun-control movement.
California, with its universal background checks for gun purchases and ban on high-capacity ammunition clips, received a score of 80 out of 100 and is "a model of sensible gun laws," proclaimed Wednesday's announcement from the Brady staff during a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington. Alaska, Utah and Arizona have virtually no gun-control laws and got zero points. Illinois earned 35 points, the highest score of any state not on the East or West coasts.
"There's now a battle brewing in the Midwest, and that's Illinois," says Brian Malte, director of federal and state mobilization for the Brady Campaign. "Illinois is the No. 1 battleground for us right now."
Illinois and Wisconsin are the only two states that don't have laws allowing residents to carry concealed firearms in public, but a bill expected to be called Thursday for a vote in the Illinois House could change that.
"This is not in any way a public safety measure…this is the opposite of public safety," Gov. Pat Quinn said in his promise to veto the measure if it passes. "Loaded concealed handguns in the possession of private citizens will lead to more danger and more bad things happening."
The Brady staff points to Arizona, site of the Jan. 8 shooting that killed six people and wounded U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 12 others, as one of three states that lets people carry concealed weapons without a permit. The National Rifle Association (www.nra.org), buoyed by last year's Supreme Court ruling that gutted Chicago's handgun ban, is pushing for Illinois to join states that allow residents to carry guns in public.
The bill (go to www.ilga.gov and search for HB0148 for details) is a many-faceted thing that crosses party lines and contains myriad issues from restrictions on where those guns could be carried to concerns about the estimated $720,000 cost to implement concealed carry. The Chicago Police Department has spoken out against concealed carry, pointing to a state police report citing problems in Illinois' ability to screen out potential gun owners with mental conditions that would prevent them from owning guns. The Illinois State Police have come out against concealed carry, but the Illinois Sheriffs' Association supports the bill.
Meanwhile, Illinois currently is spending money on both sides of the legal debate about whether the names of gun owners should be available to the public or not. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who has said the names should be made public, has hired former Gov. James R. Thompson to represent the state police department, which does not want to release those names.
In recent years, Illinois has closed a "gun show loophole," making gun buyers jump through the same hoops required for purchases from licensed gun dealers, and has elected state and national figures endorsed by gun-control groups.
"It's good politics to be on our side," says Malte of the Brady Campaign, citing the election victories for "common sense" gun-law advocates in Illinois such as Gov. Quinn, U.S. Sens. Mark Kirk and Richard Durbin and President Obama.
No matter what happens in the Illinois House on Thursday, Illinois seems destined to be in the national spotlight when it comes to gun issues. And suburban voters should be watching how our representatives vote.