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December 17, 2012

Closer Look: Ill. faces hard choices with gun law

CHICAGO — State lawmakers who are bitterly divided whether to legalize the concealed carry of weapons now have six months to do it — or they may end up with no say in the matter after a federal appeals court threw out the state's concealed gun ban last week.

"After that (180-day) period, you and I could strap a rifle on our shoulder and walk down (Chicago's) Michigan Avenue and there's nothing anybody could do about it," said state Rep. Brandon Phelps, a gun rights proponent from Harrisburg whose concealed-carry bill failed last year.

The reason, lawmakers say, is that ignoring the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling carries the consequence of turning Illinois into a "constitutional carry" state. That means all Illinois residents would need to carry a concealed weapon is a valid Illinois Firearms Identification card, without the need for a permit or training.

The ticking clock will create an intense focus on the issue in the upcoming legislative session beginning in January, with opponents and proponents arguing over a range of options like those adopted by other states — if the appeals ruling is not stayed by an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Already, Phelps said there are signs of movement and compromise. Since Tuesday's ruling, he said, he's received calls from lawmakers in Chicago who have long opposed concealed carry but now are asking to be included in crafting a bill.

"That never happened before," the Democrat said.

At the same time, opponents of concealed carry are sure to cite recent shootings — especially last week's rampage at a Connecticut school that left more than two dozen dead, most of them children — to pressure for strict controls on who can carry and where.

"It would be difficult to believe anybody could go back to their districts and say 'I didn't vote to restrict weapons,'" House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, a Chicago Democrat, said Friday after the Connecticut shootings.

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