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Sen. wants guns banned from churches

Published: Tuesday, July 16, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST

SPRINGFIELD – An Illinois lawmaker is working to add churches to the list of places completely off-limits to the concealed carry of handguns.

State Sen. Dan Kotowski, a Park Ridge Democrat and former gun control lobbyist, filed an amendment Monday to the law approved last week that would add churches to the list of places lawmakers already excluded – including schools, courthouses, government buildings, libraries and forms of public transit.

It’s among a number of changes that gun-control supporters want to make, even after both chambers of the General Assembly rejected similar restrictions proposed by Gov. Pat Quinn in order to meet a July 9 deadline set by a federal appeals court.

As passed, the law says churches and other private places may post a sign noting people can’t carry guns onto their property. But Kotowski said providing them with a specific exemption was an oversight that some lawmakers were unaware of until the legislation was debated.

Kotowski announced the move following a meeting with religious leaders in the Chicago area.

“They’re very concerned because they consider places of worship to be sanctuaries,” Kotowski said.

People “should be able to worship in peace” without worrying if the person next to them is carrying a weapon, Kotowski said. Several other states, including North Dakota, Nebraska, Louisiana, Michigan and Missouri, already prohibit guns in places of worship.

Gun rights advocates, though, said they opposed extending the ban to church, a sign that the concealed carry issue is far from over in Illinois.

Todd Vandermyde, the top Illinois lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, called Kotowski’s proposed change an “affront” to the 69-year-old trained gun owner whose lawsuit against the state ultimately paved the way for court order of the state’s concealed carry law. The woman, Mary Shepard, was attacked and severely beaten while working as a treasurer at First Baptist Church in downstate Anna.

Vandermyde suggested that Shepherd could have defended herself had she been able to carry a gun at the church. According to her 2011 lawsuit, she was a trained gun owner with no criminal record and was licensed to carry a concealed handgun in two other states, but not Illinois.

“Senator Kotowksi is often fond of saying he wants local [gun] control,” Vandermyde said. “In this instance we have provided for limited local control. A church is free to post a sign saying guns may not be carried. There are churches in Southern Illinois that don’t subscribe to Senator Kotowski’s point of view. They shouldn’t be prohibited.”

Illinois became the last state in the nation to allow public possession of concealed guns last week. The issue split lawmakers, but they overrode Quinn’s changes by wide margins because he proposed them only a week before the court deadline and after months of negotiating in the Legislature. Some feared not acting would allow virtually unregulated concealed carry, at a time when Chicago has been struggling to battle gun violence.

Quinn wanted guns banned in a church unless the church expressly prohibited it by posting a sign.

“When you go to church, [should you] have signs saying ‘No guns allowed’?” Quinn asked at a Chicago news conference announcing his changes to the legislation earlier this month. “I think it ought to be presumed.”

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