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NIU victim’s mother: Let locals decide on guns

SPRINGFIELD – The mother of the youngest victim gunned down five years ago in a massacre at Northern Illinois University asked lawmakers Tuesday to give local police a say in issuing future permits to carry concealed weapons.

Mary Kay Mace told the House Judiciary Committee that county sheriffs often know the people in jurisdictions better than criminal background checks or mental health histories might reveal. The testimony came during a three-hour hearing on court-required gun legislation.

Mace is the mother of 19-year-old Ryann Mace of Carpentersville, one of five students killed on the DeKalb campus in February 2008 by Steven Kazmierczak, a former NIU graduate student with a history of mental illness who nonetheless was able to buy weapons legally.

“Many local law enforcement officials in smaller and rural areas know their citizens personally. These local officers are well aware of who stumbles out of the bar after having imbibed too much,” Mace said. “... These local officers know which of their citizens is a hothead who menaces his or her spouse.”

The mother’s soft-but-steady testimony crystallized perhaps the fundamental issue surrounding the likely adoption of concealed carry here: Should Illinois be a “may-issue” state, in which local police can deny a permit despite an otherwise clear background, or a “shall-issue” location where anyone who meets prescribed criteria must get a permit to carry?

Gun-rights advocates such as the National Rifle Association believe they have the upper hand, with good reason. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in December that the Illinois ban on carrying concealed weapons – the only statewide ban remaining in the nation – is unconstitutional.

The court gave the General Assembly until June 9 to draft a law. After that, NRA lobbyist Todd Vandermyde said, “the clock runs out” and the court will implement its own law.

“We went to court and we won,” said Vandermyde, who left open the door to negotiating fair legislation, but noted his constituents’ patience is waning, given what he said has been the governor’s and Chicago officials’ unwillingness to compromise.

“We cannot ban violent criminals. We cannot ban mental illness, said Valinda Rowe of the pro-gun-rights group IllinoisCarry. “We can’t keep drawing imaginary circles around our communities, around our schools, declaring that they are gun-free zones, and then pretending that the violent criminals and mentally deranged won’t cross that line and harm our children.”

Debate during the hearing in a packed, ornate state Capitol hearing room ranged from Thomas Jefferson’s views on armed citizens to the 70,000 monthly applications the Illinois State Police receive for firearm owners’ identification cards, despite nearly 1.5 million FOID cards already issued in Illinois.

Illinois State Police Lt. Darrin Clark said the fee for issuing a future concealed carry permit must cover the cost of processing. FOID cards cost $12 to produce, Clark said, while the 10-year fee for a card is only $10.

House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, scheduled the hearing to gather testimony over gun-safety legislation. Another hearing is scheduled for Friday in Chicago.

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