SPRINGFIELD -- A week of desk-pounding, name-calling, bluster about walking away from negotiations and threats about a state of Wild West justice left Illinois House members no closer to an agreement on allowing the public possession of weapons, and sent them scouting for an alternative.
Lawmakers face a June 9 federal court-ordered deadline to legalize the carrying of concealed weapons. But it remains to be seen whether a negotiated proposal that could satisfy both violence-weary Chicagoans and Second Amendment loyalists downstate can be found next week in the Senate. In most of the state, the compromise would require that gun permits be given to anyone who meets background-check requirements, while in Cook County local authorities would have power to deny concealed carry permission in individual cases.
The Republican negotiator on that bill said it's a reasonable compromise. But National Rifle Association lobbyist Todd Vandermyde offered a terse appraisal of the measure's chances.
"We'll kill it," Vandermyde said.
Gun-rights advocates were heartened Wednesday when a proposal to restrict who gets to tote guns was handily defeated in the House. But those same supporters were stunned when their own measure, requiring gun permits for anyone who meets background-check requirements, fell seven votes short.
The House concealed-carry sponsor, Rep. Brandon Phelps, a southern Illinois Democrat, said he believes some House colleagues held back because they wanted to see a proposal offered by Chicago Democratic Sen. Kwame Raoul, who has been negotiating with Republican Sen. Tim Bivins of Dixon.
Bivins, who spent 20 years as Lee County sheriff, agreed to a carve-out for Cook County because the deadline is looming and Democrats hold such a strong majority in the Senate.
"Legislators from that corner of the state, there are issues they want addressed and are concerned about, and likewise, downstate, outside the Cook County area, people have been clamoring and want this done and also want their Second Amendment rights upheld," Bivins said. "I don't know how else you go about it."
The plan appears to give both sides what they want. The debate has divided along the lines of so-called "may issue" versus "shall issue" laws. Under "may issue," local authorities are empowered to deny a gun permit even if an applicant passes a criminal-background check. A "shall issue" plan such as Phelps's means if an applicant passes the check, he must be issued a permit.
But Vandermyde is concerned that, among other things, the Raoul-Bivins proposal would cause problems in communities such as Elgin and Hinsdale, where the city limits cross over into Cook County. Under their proposal, Cook County would governed by a "may issue" law and the rest of the state would abide by "shall issue."
"On one side of town, I'm OK," Vandermyde explained. "On the other side of town, my permit is not even valid for my entire town?"
The philosophical divide separating both sides was evident in two votes this week, when a "may issue" bill offered by Chicago Democratic Rep. Kelly Cassidy received just 31 votes. A Democratic supporter ridiculed GOP opponents, prompting an eruption by one lawmaker and threats by the presiding officer to call doorkeepers to restore order.
Phelps believed he had the required 71 votes for his "shall issue" bill Thursday night, and warned that without a legislative deal, the June 9 deadline would be blown and a concept known as "constitutional carry" -- any weapon, carried anywhere, without a permit -- would take effect. Supporters likened it to the days of Wyatt Earp.
Phelps said Friday the state could ask for a delay of the deadline, appeal the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, or continue to tie the issue up in court.
"You go off the cliff, it sounds great ...," Phelps said, "but it just takes that one person to mess it up for everybody. That's why I think there should be some restrictions."
He doesn't dismiss the idea of walking out on talks. He and the NRA point out that pro-gun votes are needed on whatever deal is struck. But Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, a Chicago Democrat, says Phelps's backers don't want to see constitutional carry any more than Chicago opponents do.
"That (court) opinion makes it clear there ought to be balancing, there ought to be protections, there ought not to be the Wild West," Currie said, "so I think the court would be loath to conclude that it is now completely lawless in the state of Illinois."