SPRINGFIELD – Some Illinois Democrats on Thursday urged the governor to act quickly on legislation allowing the carrying of concealed weapons in the state, saying they need him to accept or reject the measure so lawmakers can avert a "public safety and constitutional crisis" as they try to meet a court-ordered deadline.
Illinois' General Assembly sent Gov. Pat Quinn a bill to end the state's holdout as last in the nation to prevent concealed carry after a federal appeals court ruled in December that the ban violates the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. The Democratic governor has been tight-lipped about his intentions.
In a letter to Quinn on Thursday, 23 Democrats in the state Senate, including Senate President John Cullerton, said the governor should "make his intentions known" so lawmakers have time to react before the court's July 9 deadline for implementing a plan.
The letter, obtained by The Associated Press, notes that authorities in a dozen counties are already refusing to prosecute those who carry concealed weapons. Some counties are setting up their own rules to allow public possession of concealed firearms because the existing law has been invalidated, even if it's still on the books.
"If you intend to issue a veto or amendatory veto, we ask that you do it quickly. The General Assembly will need time to respond. Every day we get closer to the federal court's July 9 deadline. Time is of the essence," the letter said. "We urge you to act on this legislation now. The last thing we need is a public safety and constitutional crisis."
Gun-rights advocates have maintained that blowing the deadline would mean any gun could be carried anywhere. Others have argued it would simply allow local municipalities to adopt highly restrictive carry ordinances. Chicago, worn down by gun violence, has long tried to curb firearms possession and worked hard to retain its prohibition on assault-style weapons in the concealed-carry initiative.
The measure requires the same handgun-toting rules statewide. Quinn had advocated allowing larger cities to adopt their own restrictions in the name of "local control."
Spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said Quinn has been carefully considering the proposal since it arrived in his office about two weeks ago.
"Gov. Quinn is reviewing every line of this legislation to ensure that public safety comes first," Anderson said. "This is a critical public-safety issue and it deserves careful review. This is not something that should be rushed into willy-nilly."
The legislation allows anyone who has a Firearm Owners' Identification card to get a concealed carry permit after passing a background check, undergoing 16 hours of training – the most in the nation – and paying a $150 fee. Law enforcement agencies may object to an application by alerting a review board appointed by the governor.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart told the AP last week he'd warned Quinn the process is ripe for allowing guns to get into the wrong hands. Police and prosecutors have only names of applicants, and Dart said it would be impossible in his county of 358,000 FOID cardholders to research applicants based only on names.
The senators' letter does not advocate approval or rejection, but it is signed by several strong concealed carry supporters.
Prosecutors in nine counties have said they're setting up their own concealed carry rules while they wait for the state – or are at least not charging those who pack in public.
Others point out they rarely ever have. State's attorneys in Effingham, Shelby and Jasper counties in central Illinois told the Effingham Daily News they've never enforced the law unless other wrongdoing was involved.
"We normally have not prosecuted concealed carry cases," Effingham County State's Attorney Bryan Kilber said, "as long as the person is not acting like a jerk."
The bill is HB183.
Associated Press writer David Mercer in Champaign, Ill., contributed to this report.
Contact AP Political Writer John O'Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor