The state of Illinois would have to allow ordinary citizens to carry weapons under a federal appeals court ruling issued today, but the judges also gave lawmakers 180 days to put their own version of the law in place.
In a 2-1 decision that is a major victory for the National Rifle Association, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals said the state's ban on carrying a weapon in public is unconstitutional.
"We are disinclined to engage in another round of historical analysis to determine whether eighteenth-century America understood the Second Amendment to include a right to bear guns outside the home. The Supreme Court has decided that the amendment confers a right to bear arms for self-defense, which is as important outside the home as inside," the judges ruled.
"The theoretical and empirical evidence (which overall is inconclusive) is consistent with concluding that a right to carry firearms in public may promote self-defense. Illinois had to provide us with more than merely a rational basis for believing that its uniquely sweeping ban is justified by an increase in public safety. It has failed to meet this burden.
"The Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Second Amendment compelled the appeals court to rule the ban unconstitutional, the judges said. But the court gave 180 days to "allow the Illinois legislature to craft a new gun law that will impose reasonable limitations, consistent with the public safety and the Second Amendment as interpreted in this opinion, on the carrying of guns in public."
David Sigale, an attorney who represented the Second Amendment Foundation in the lawsuit, called the decision by the appeals court in Chicago “historic.”
“What we are most pleased about is how the court has recognized that the Second Amendment is just as, if not at times more, important in public as it is in the home,” he said. “The right of self-defense doesn’t end at your front door.”
In the opinion, Posner wrote that “a Chicagoan is a good deal more likely to be attacked on a sidewalk in a rough neighborhood than in his apartment on the 35th floor of the Park Tower.”
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, a Democrat, is giving itself time to examine the ruling before deciding whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"The court gave 180 days before its decision will be returned to the lower court to be implemented,” said Natalie Bauer, Madigan’s spokeswoman. “That time period allows our office to review what legal steps can be taken and enables the legislature to consider whether it wants to take action."
Illinois is the only state in the nation not to have some form of conceal carry after Wisconsin recently approved law.
"The (Illinois) legislature, in the new session, will be forced to take up a statewide carry law," said NRA lobbyist Todd Vandermyde.
The lobbyist said prior attempts to reach a middle ground with opponents will no longer be necessary because "those compromises are going out the window."
House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, a longtime gun control advocate, said she hoped the state would appeal the ruling. But Currie also said lawmakers must “get cracking” on how to respond to the ruling and begin parsing its key points.
Currie, D-Chicago, said that “justices surely do not mean that we would have to have wide-open” laws in Illinois. She said Illinois must now look at what other states are doing, such as disallowing guns in day-care centers and other locations.
“If we need to change the law, let us at least craft a law that is very severely constrained and narrowly tailored so that we don’t invite guns out of control on each of our city’s streets,” Currie said. “I don’t want people out of control wandering the streets with guns that are out of control.”
Rep. Brandon Phelps, who has repeatedly sponsored concealed weapons legislation, hailed the measure as a “mandate."
“The justices more or less said Illinois has a mandate to get something passed within 180 days… to pass a concealed-carry law in the state of Illinois,” said Phelps, a Democrat from Downstate Harrisburg.
“I never thought we’d get a victory of that magnitude,” Phelps said.
Phelps fought unsuccessfully in the House to pass concealed weapons legislation with a long set of restrictions, but he warned opponents of his legislation may regret they had not supported it when they had a chance. Now, he said, he “can’t see us” going forward with legislation that has as many restrictions as the bill that failed.
The prior bill largely limited carrying weapons to when a person was in a car, walking into a house and out on a sidewalk, and it specifically disallowed guns to be carried in churches, schools, gymnasiums, sporting events, bars and businesses, Phelps said.
He said no decision has been made on which restrictions in his previous legislation would be removed in a new bill.
Phelps warned that gun control groups who might want to appeal the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court might put strict laws in other states in jeopardy. He said he would consult with the National Rifle Association and the Illinois State Rifle Association.
A spokeswoman for Gov. Pat Quinn said the administration is reviewing the decision. The governor has previously said he was firmly opposed to any law allowing citizens to carry loaded guns in public. He threatened to veto previous attempts by lawmakers to pass legislation allowing concealed carry in Illinois.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel said through a spokesman that he was “disappointed with the court’s decision.” The city is reviewing the opinion and will work with others “to best protect the residents of Chicago and still meet constitutional restrictions,” Bill McCaffrey added.
“As the mayor has said all along, the City of Chicago is committed to maintaining the fullest degree of lawful handgun restrictions possible while still respecting the Second Amendment rights of law abiding citizens, because maintaining common-sense restrictions is an issue of public safety.”
Last March, Emanuel introduced a resolution passed by the City Council in opposition to state legislation that would have allowed people to carry firearms in public. Like former Mayor Richard Daley before him, Emanuel has long been a proponent of gun control.
Under Daley, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Chicago’s handgun ban. In mid-2010, the council enacted new gun-control measures, even as many aldermen conceded it would do little to quell crime. Those regulations require that Chicago handgun owners obtain a permit after undergoing mandatory firearms training and register their weapons.
Reaction to the decision is rolling in from City Hall to the Capitol.
Ald. Howard Brookins, 21st, chairman of the City Council black caucus, welcomed the decision, saying allowing Chicagoans to carry concealed weapons would help level the playing field in neighborhoods where law-abiding citizens feel like they need firearms to protect themselves.
"Certain people will have a sense of safety and peace of mind in the ability to do it," Brookins said of conceal-carry. "I know that even people, for example, just trying to see that their loved ones get homes safely are in technical violation of all sorts of weapons violations. If you just walk out to your garage and see that your wife is coming in the house safely, and you happen to have your gun on you, you're in technical violation of our ordinance. So I would hope all these ordinances would be consolidated so there's one set of rules and people would know where the bright line is to what they can and cannot do with respect to carrying a weapon."
Brookins said he's not worried doing away with the state ban would lead to an increase in gun violence as more people walk the streets with weapons. "I think those people have a gun now, they've just been made criminals because they can't legally have it," Brookins said. "And I think the gangbangers and thugs are going to have a gun regardless."
Sen. Bill Brady, the Bloomington Republican who supported concealed-carry in his failed 2010 bid for governor, hailed the court’s ruling, saying it represents a “recognition that law-abiding citizens in Illinois have a right to defend and protect themselves, just as the citizens of the 49 other states do. In today’s society, men and women should have an opportunity to be as safe on the streets as they are in their own homes.”
Brady said he will work with fellow lawmakers to write a “responsible law that meets that goal as well as to provide for safe enforcement of it. I would hope that all Illinois officials use their energy to craft a concealed carry law with appropriate safeguards that will make Illinois the model for implementation of concealed carry laws, rather than using those resources to appeal today’s ruling.”
A gun control group urged Attorney General Madigan to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“As the dissenting opinion points out, the two judges who threw out Illinois' law did not take account of the danger to the public from stray bullets, and they ignored the Illinois legislature's determination that carrying weapons has been shown to escalate violence,” said Lee Goodman, an organizer with the Stop Concealed Carry Coalition, in a statement. “The decision, contrary to fundamental legal principles, took away the people's right, through their state legislatures, to make laws to protect themselves that are relevant to the conditions present in each state.”