In the 10 days since U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot in Arizona, nine firearms-related bills have been filed in the Illinois House of Representatives. Their aims range from amending the process and requirements for registration of handguns to allowing registered owners to carry concealed weapons. All nine bills relax gun regulations, and all nine have the support of the Illinois State Rifle Association.
Illinois and Wisconsin are the only two states that do not allow concealed carry.
State Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-118th, filed the Family and Personal Protection Act, a "shall-issue" law that would allow adults who complete certification to conceal firearms.
"This isn't going to be the Wild West," Phelps said. "But if someone in Chicago is walking down the street and they know that that person might be carrying a gun, they might think twice."
In June 2010, the United States Supreme Court struck down Chicago’s 28-year-old gun ban. Four days later, on July 2, the City Council passed revised gun laws that require would-be owners to attend firearms training to obtain the required permits.
"Gun bans in the District of Columbia and Chicago don't work," Phelps said. "When there is concealed carry, gun violence has gone down."
In 2009, the Illinois Sheriff’s Association issued a news release in support of conceal carry, noting that other states have demonstrated successful implementation. However, Executive Director Greg Sullivan said the current conceal carry bills need to be amended, and that the Sheriff’s Association is working closely with the State Rifle Association for those changes.
“We believe they ought to be issued on a statewide basis so there’s uniformity,” rather than by county sheriffs as the bills now stipulate, Sullivan said. That way, “every officer on the street knows what the [permit] card looks like.”
Harold Pollack, the co-director of the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab, said Chicago’s gun regulations have had some impact on the level of gun violence in the city.
“Our homicide rate is at the lowest it’s been in about 25 years,” said Pollack, a professor of health policy at the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration.
Mass homicides such as the Jan. 8 shootings in Tucson, Ariz., raise people’s attention, Pollack said. But, he said, “The majority of homicides don’t look like what happened in Arizona.”
Most homicides, according to the FBI, which publishes annual statistics of crimes nationwide, involve one or two victims. Chicago, where the murder rate is more than four times the national average, has seen an overall decline in the number of firearm homicides since 2002.
At Illinois Gun Works Inc. in Elmwood Park, owner Don Mastrianni said his business for classes and gun sales has gone up since the new Chicago regulations have been in place.
“People have a tendency to believe the boogie man is waiting to jump out at them from under a bush,” Mastrianni said.
Illinois Gun Works provides training for legal certification and familiarization classes in addition to selling and repairing firearms. Mastrianni said they often restrict ammunition sales during certain holidays and will refuse to sell at their discretion, even if the customer has earned proper certification.
“We insist they at least have some knowledge of weapons,” he said. “We can weed out the goofy ones.”
Conceal carry bills have been introduced in Springfield in the past, and Rep. Phelps said recently they seem to fall short by only by a handful of votes. He said he hopes the new General Assembly, which leans somewhat more conservative than its predecessor, will vote in favor of his conceal carry legislation.
Regardless of whether state representatives succeed in passing conceal carry legislation, those both in favor and against the easing of restrictions agree that careful handling of sales is critical to reducing gun crime.
“There’s no silver bullet,” Professor Pollack said. “We need a range of complementary policies -- with some focus on guns -- to attack violence.”