By Tim Jones
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois lifted its prohibition against carrying concealed firearms as lawmakers rejected an effort by Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn to restrict guns in public places.
The nation's fifth-largest state will now join the other 49 in allowing citizens to carry concealed guns, as dictated in a Dec. 11 federal court order that said Illinois's ban was unconstitutional. Quinn on July 2 made proposed changes to the legislatively approved bill, inserting limits on the ammunition capacity of gun magazines, restoring the right of local governments to enact restrictions and prohibiting firearms in bars or restaurants that sell alcohol.
Lawmakers Tuesday rejected the changes, with the House of Representatives and Senate overturning Quinn's amendatory vetoes.
"This sends a strong message to the governor," said Democratic State Rep. Brandon Phelps, the main sponsor of the bill, adding that Quinn's changes were "grandstanding and he should be ashamed of himself."
The votes followed a violent weekend in Chicago, in which more than 70 people were shot — 12 fatally — from Wednesday through Sunday evening.
Illinois was under court pressure to enact a concealed- carry law after a federal appeals court ruled its last-in-the- nation ban unconstitutional. The General Assembly approved a bill May 31 after months of negotiations. Today was the deadline for the state to enact a law.
Quinn, a gun-control proponent, last week called lawmakers "mouthpieces for the NRA," referring to the Fairfax, Va.-based National Rifle Association, a gun lobbying group. Quinn said the bill endangered the public. In the days before Tuesday's vote, the governor spoke about the dangers of more firearms on the streets.
Phelps rejected claims that concealed-carry laws increase the likelihood of gun crimes. "If it was so bad why hasn't any other state tried to repeal it?" he said.
The debate has divided Chicago, with strict gun laws, from the rest of the state. Many state legislatures are split by urban and rural interests. In Illinois, with about 380 miles (611 kilometers) separating its southern tip from an urban center with a history of the nation's toughest gun laws, those fractures are even more pronounced.
While gun-control advocates — most in urban areas — have pushed for stronger restrictions after the Newtown, Conn., school shooting that left 26 students and adults dead, opponents from rural and suburban areas have countered with claims that such atrocities could be eliminated or reduced if more citizens were armed.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 2008 ruled that the Second Amendment confers an individual right to keep and bear arms, striking down a handgun ban in the District of Columbia by a 5-4 vote. Two years later, the high court invalidated a Chicago ordinance that barred guns even within the home.