Board skirts concealed-carry law, pushes for legislation to fix issues

SPRINGFIELD - The regulatory body at the center of a stir over a law allowing retired county and state correctional officers virtually unrestricted permission to carry concealed weapons is seeking legislation to cover its concerns after failing to garner guidance from the state's top lawyer.

The Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board sought an opinion from the attorney general on its authority to expand permission for concealed carry to former sheriff's correctional officers and state prison guards as prescribed by a law that took effect Jan. 1.

But Attorney General Kwame Raoul's office declined in part because it expects lawsuits over the board's unwillingness to administer the expanded program.

"I want to make sure that people are safe," training board chairman Sean Smoot said. "I want to make sure correctional officers are safe, and their families are safe. I want to make sure the public is safe."

Sen. Bill Cunningham, the Chicago Democrat who sponsored the legislation last spring, has said he's willing to work on a follow-up measure to cover what the training board sees as shortcomings, but only if it implements the current law so that retirees waiting for permits can apply.

Although he was unfamiliar with the specifics, Gov. J.B. Pritzker also said this month that "any law on the books should be complied with." His office said Monday that he would sign a proposal allowing the board to issue the necessary permits as soon as possible.

The 2004 Law Enforcement Officer Safety Act granted retired law enforcement officers the right to carry concealed weapons anywhere in the country. About 10,000 retirees are eligible in Illinois but for two decades it excluded correctional officers who patrol state prisons and county jails, along with some county sheriff's deputies who served as court bailiffs.

There are discrepancies between state and federal codes in terms of definitions of "peace officers," whether the 10-year law enforcement career requirements include the deputies and prison officers and whether jail guards, unarmed in cell blocks, go through the same firearms training as their patrol colleagues, among other technical issues.

"Some of them might need to get more training than they've had to be able to carry a concealed weapon, under the circumstance that they're going to intervene in a situation when they're off duty, or they're retired," Smoot said.

But even if lawmakers adopt legislation bridging gaps to the training board's comfort level, Smoot said the board would need emergency powers to make rules governing the changes, something that is typically the purview of the bicameral, bipartisan Joint Committee on Administrative Rules. The standard approach through the committee can take months.

Cunningham, who also expects legal action against the board, has been miffed at the board for apparently not acting soon enough and expressing concerns during debate on the bill last spring. But during its March meeting, training board chief counsel John Keigher produced a timeline showing how the board reacted when it learned about the legislation on April 7, 2022.

That was the day Cunningham added the gun-carry proposal to a House measure. The Senate approved it that day and on April 8, the House concurred with the new language.

Keigher's timeline showed each contact the board made, starting April 7, with the offices of the governor, the speaker of the House, various legislators and Cunningham through mid-December, after the fall legislative session and just weeks before the law was to take effect.

Messages were never returned and conversations with staff members of leaders in the Capitol ended without any progress on the problem, Keigher maintained.

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