SPRINGFIELD — — Gun owners and activists rallied Wednesday in Springfield, just days after the first concealed carry permits arrived in mailboxes across Illinois, wasting no time in turning to next steps in a battle they insist isn't over.
About 5,000 gun-rights supporters from across the state, dressed in yellow sweatshirts and waving gun rights signs, marched from the Prairie Capitol Convention Center to the Capitol building. It was the first lobby day for gun activists since lawmakers passed legislation last summer making Illinois the last state in the nation to allow for the concealed carry of firearms.
Republican gubernatorial candidates, state Treasurer Dan Rutherford and state Sens. Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard, spoke at the convention center. Fellow candidate and businessman Bruce Rauner canceled because of weather conditions.
Gun activists called the landmark concealed carry law a great achievement and applauded the Illinois State Police for rolling out a "sophisticated" screening process for background checks in just a few months. But they say the concealed carry law should be tweaked to lessen the places where guns are outlawed.
"We recognize that the battle for gun rights in Illinois is not over, that we still have a long road ahead of us," said Richard Pearson, the executive director for the Illinois State Rifle Association.
Lawmakers on both sides of the issue have already proposed changes to the concealed carry law — some that would allow guns in more places such as public mass transportation and others that would restrict carrying firearms in churches. Another proposal would cut the required gun training for a concealed carry permit in half.
"No side is going to wait because if you wait, then the other side gets an advantage," Pearson said.
Valinda Rowe, a spokeswoman for the online gun rights forum IllinoisCarry.com, said public mass transportation, parks, museums and libraries should allow for concealed carry. She added that teachers with the proper training should carry guns if they're part of the school's security team.
"Gun-free zones are killing zones," Rowe said.
Some supporters at the rally also indicated they want to see a cut in the training time and fees required for a permit. Gun owners are required to log 16 hours of training and pay a $150 fee to receive a concealed carry permit that lasts for five years.
Tim Bowyer of Shelbyville said the 16-hour training requirement is "ridiculous" for someone to receive a permit, and that permit fees should decrease for people eligible for public aid. He received his permit in the mail a day before the rally, but said lessening gun-free zones remains a top priority because he doesn't believe it prevents criminal activity.
"It's a celebration, but we've got to keep our supporters and our people knowing that we can't just sit back and relax just because we've got concealed carry," Bowyer said.