ST. LOUIS – A second Illinois prosecutor has decided to let his county's residents carry concealed weapons even as the governor weighs whether to allow it statewide, reflecting surging impatience among local law enforcement months after a federal court tossed out the state's last-in-the-nation ban.
Randolph County State's Attorney Jeremy Walker's announcement Tuesday that he'll stop prosecuting the prohibition on guns in public came just days after his counterpart in suburban St. Louis' Madison County issued a similar declaration. The sheriff of southern Illinois' Clinton County also has joined suit, saying any armed person found in his jurisdiction from counties that allow concealed weapons won't be arrested for packing heat.
The Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals late last year threw out the state's prohibition, giving Illinois lawmakers a deadline of June 9 to come up with a measure allowing concealed carry. The state's General Assembly signed off on a bill that's now before Gov. Pat Quinn, who hasn't indicated whether he'll sign it ahead of a newly extended July 9 cutoff.
A spokesman for Quinn, in an emailed reply to The Associated Press' request for an interview, said Wednesday only that "the governor is reviewing the bill carefully."
But arguing that enough was enough, Walker insisted Wednesday "it is time to act" in his county now that the original deadline passed with no statewide resolution. Walker said he was not swayed by Madison County State's Attorney Tom Gibbons' announcement last week to let gun owners carry weapons if they meet certain requirements, which in both counties now include having a valid firearm owners identification card and not being barred otherwise from having a weapon.
"It's definitely something I've been considering quite a while, and I think I'm on strong constitutional ground," said Walker, put off by months of Statehouse wrangling over the issue since the ban was nullified. "I don't want to do something just to get my name in the paper. But (state lawmakers) could have resolved this issue in January and had something in effect by now."
Such county-by-county permissiveness has drawn fire from other Illinois prosecutors, many of them arguing state's attorneys who allow concealed weapons in public are wrongly making laws instead of carrying out their obligations to enforce them. The Illinois State Police called the halting of concealed-carry prosecutions in Madison and Randolph counties "irresponsible."
"There are very rational arguments on both sides," Walker said.
Legal experts have said prosecutors are well within their rights to decide which cases they will or won't pursue.
Clinton County Sheriff Mike Kreke agreed with Gibbons' announcement last week and announced Tuesday that his deputies won't arrest someone found with a concealed weapon as long as their home jurisdiction allow the practice. That's if such gun owners follow the rules spelled out in such places as Randolph and Madison counties, including that the gun is lawfully owned, wasn't used during a crime and the owner tells the deputy up front that they have a concealed weapon.
Across the rest of Illinois, law-enforcement groups including the Illinois State Police, Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and the Illinois Sheriffs' Association have made clear since Gibbons' declaration last week that authorities "will continue to enforce Illinois' current unlawful use of a weapon statute in all jurisdictions."
"Illinois State Police have a responsibility to enforce the law and maintain that it is every gun owner's responsibility to ensure they are in compliance with the laws of Illinois when living or passing through the state," that agency said in an email Wednesday to the AP. The state "has a responsibility to protect the lives of citizens, and this irresponsible action taken by county officials defies law enforcement's collective public safety mission to ensure citizens are safe and informed until the law is passed."