SPRINGFIELD (AP) – The firestorm over concealed weapons moved to the Illinois House floor Tuesday, sparking Republican complaints that an extraordinary legislative process set up by majority Democrats would restrict the right to carry guns in public rather than allow it, as a federal court has ordered.
The House began debate on 27 separate amendments dealing with concealed carry in a process initiated by House Speaker Michael Madigan requiring debates on each separate topic.
But minority Republicans interrupted the schedule twice with lengthy private caucus meetings and stormy public protests about a procedure they claimed was controlled by anti-gun Chicago liberals. They complained the debate makes no sense when the state continues to face a $96 billion pension system deficit and $9 billion in unpaid bills.
“People are watching this. They know Chicago is the murder capital of the world,” said Forsyth Republican Bill Mitchell, adding, “You might have the majority, but you sure as hell can’t lead.”
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in December that Illinois’ last-in-the-nation ban on carrying concealed weapons is unconstitutional and gave the Legislature until June to rectify it. Rep. Brandon Phelps, a Democrat from Harrisburg in deep southern Illinois, introduced comprehensive legislation.
But Madigan, a fellow Democrat, identified an empty bill to be the gun legislation and offered lawmakers the chance to add the language through amendments. They filed 27, including competing provisions on whether the state would allow local police to decide who gets permits or requiring issuing permits to anyone who meets minimum qualifications.
Many of them, however, ban carrying guns in specific places such as schools, day cares, casinos, hospitals, libraries and stadiums.
In many cases, they not only prohibit carrying in those facilities, but in parking lots and adjacent property — meaning firearms can’t be stored in cars while gun-owners go inside.
“You’re spray-painting red circles around all these places and at the end of the day, the whole state is going to be red and you won’t be able to carry a gun anywhere,” Phelps said.
For sponsors of many of the amendments, it was an exercise in sensible safeguards.
Answering a question from Republican Rep. Dwight Kay of Glen Carbon about the Bill of Rights’ guarantee that citizens may keep and bear arms, Rep. Deborah Mell, D-Chicago, said, “I support the language in the Second Amendment, but I feel it is necessary to put in regulations for the public safety.”
Mell, who sponsored a measure to prohibit guns on public transit, she said she’d rather have police, not armed citizens, provide protection.
Democrats booed and shouted “No!” when Rep. Jim Sacia suggested imposing gun limits across Illinois because of Chicago’s homicide problem would be like forcing statewide castration because the city was having “too many kids.”
“That was an analogy to show how silly this is,” said Sacia, R-Pecatonica, adding that he has introduced a bill allowing armed teachers with consent form the local school district. “You bet I used Chicago as an example because you’re the folks that want this craziness.”
Madigan allowed a Republican motion to allow Phelps’ bill to be released from a committee’s control and sent to the floor. But an attempt to put the bill under debate Tuesday into a committee for traditional vetting failed 38-68 with six “present” votes.
The Madigan procedure, requiring votes on specific issues, allows anti-gun Democrats to record “no” votes on individual provisions even though they might be forced to vote for a final bill in response to the court ruling. It also means Republicans will be on record as opposing what liberals might term “commonsense” gun restrictions, such as banning them from schools.
“We’re going to play the game. You’ll say that we all want violence in schools, which is nonsense,” said Rep. Dennis Reboletti, an Elmhurst Republican. “We’re the laughingstock of the nation.”
The bill is HB1155. Phelps’s bill is HB997.
Contact Political Writer John O’Connor at https://www.twitter.com/apoconnor
Associated Press writer Regina Garcia Cano contributed to this report.