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Brown: Cops can’t properly police applicants under concealed-carry law

Updated: August 10, 2013 6:40AM

Under a concealed-carry law the General Assembly is expected to enact Tuesday over Gov. Pat Quinn’s amendatory veto, local law enforcement agencies have the right to object to any applicant.

The only limitation is that the objection be “based upon a reasonable suspicion that the applicant is a danger to himself or others, or a threat to public safety.”

At first blush, that may sound like a good idea — providing an extra level of protection to keep the wrong people from carrying a gun in public. That’s over and above a requirement for the State Police to check criminal background, mental health and domestic violence records.

But as currently constructed, that right to object shapes up as just another of those empty legal provisions that promises something it’s not really in position to deliver.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has been the first to raise legitimate concerns about whether law enforcement agencies can provide meaningful screening of applicants, especially within the 30 days allowed under the law.

As it stands now, Dart warns, the law is more likely to create expensive busy work for local law enforcement than to keep concealed-carry permits out of the wrong hands.

Even before the Legislature takes its vote to override Quinn’s proposed rewrite of the concealed-carry bill, there is already talk among lawmakers about pursuing further legislation to fix this one.

Dart’s concerns ought to be a part of that follow-up discussion, along with some of Quinn’s recommendations such as limiting how many concealed guns an individual can carry.

It’s certainly possible lawmakers did not really want law enforcement agencies taking a strong role in who is and who is not allowed to carry a gun. We know the NRA wanted as little discretion in the application process as possible.

In that case, legislators might want to drop the whole pretext of a system for law enforcement objections.

But if it was truly their intent to screen out individuals whose disqualifying concerns aren’t readily found in government databases, then they’re going to need to consult with the affected agencies to make it workable, especially here in Cook County where some expect more than 100,000 concealed-carry applications in the first year.

Part of the problem is that the final version of the concealed-carry bill emerged from the Legislature at the 11th hour with little opportunity for anyone to have such concerns addressed.

The system of objections, which will be overseen by a new Concealed Carry Licensing Review Board, was part of a compromise on the sticky wicket of whether Illinois “shall issue” or “may issue” concealed-carry permits.

Gun rights groups wanted the law to say the state “shall issue” the permits with the presumption going to the applicant, while gun control groups wanted the law to say “may issue,” allowing for tighter government restrictions by requiring applicants to make a case why they need to carry a gun.

In the end, legislators went with “shall issue” — with an exception if law enforcement objects.

But that’s a pretty hollow exception without new funding for the purpose of checking out applicants. Arguably, it does little more than create a situation where down the road — when some concealed-carry permit holder inevitably goes astray — somebody can blame a law-enforcement agency for missing a red flag.

“No other state has this, so we’re unique in this regard,” said Cara Smith, the sheriff’s chief of policy and communications.

“If it’s meant to be an extra layer of protection, I don’t think it will become that here,” Smith said.

Smith points out that the 30-day period for law enforcement to object starts before the State Police have even determined whether an applicant has met the threshold requirements, such as having a valid firearms owner identification card.

That means law enforcement will be using its resources to check into the backgrounds of individuals who may not even get that far.

The law does not delineate jurisdictional responsibilities for who can object. For instance, it doesn’t limit the sheriff just to those applicants from unincorporated Cook County.

The Chicago Police Department, which will clearly take on a ton of new responsibility, has had nothing to say publicly on the subject.

But department spokesman Adam Collins acknowledged Monday that: “Chicago Police are concerned that the process for reviewing applications is burdensome and costly. We are evaluating our options.”

Letting the Legislature hear about those concerns is always a good place to start.

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