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Sheriff Tom Dart rails against ‘horrifically unworkable’ concealed-carry law

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart talks reporters about concealed carry law late last year.  |  Mark Brown~Sun-Times

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart talks to reporters about the concealed carry law late last year. | Mark Brown~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 19, 2014 12:07PM

If someone from Cook County with an Illinois gun carry permit goes berserk and shoots up a shopping mall, Sheriff Tom Dart doesn’t want anybody blaming him.

That’s the message within the message of Dart’s impassioned press conference Tuesday, at which he complained about the procedures being established by the Illinois State Police to screen applicants under the state’s new concealed-carry law.

“People are going to say: ‘Why wasn’t that caught?’ ” Dart said of the inevitable first incident when a concealed-carry permit-holder with a questionable background shoots somebody. “ ‘Why didn’t someone catch this?’ ”

Dart has a keener sense than most public officials for the parts of his job that could cause political blowback and does his best to reduce his exposure.

And honestly, you shouldn’t blame Dart or other local law-enforcement officials if something goes wrong under the new law, set to take effect next month.

Architects of the concealed-carry law never intended for Dart’s office to be out there conducting its own detailed background checks, despite inclusion of a provision that allows for local law enforcement to raise objections.

State lawmakers specifically entrusted the primary responsibility for conducting background checks with the Illinois State Police and set out specific, limited grounds on which the agency could object to an applicant.

Whether we like it or not, this is a permissive law intended to put guns in the shoulder holsters and purses of most everybody with a Firearm Owners Identification Card who requests one.

What will be the result? We’ll soon find out.

I have no idea whether the law will create as many problems as Dart expects. Notably, nobody else in law enforcement seems to be raising quite the same concerns as he is.

Dart is right about this much: There aren’t going to be a bunch of investigators out there knocking on doors and talking to neighbors to check out whether someone is the type of person who can be trusted to walk around town with a gun.

He thinks that’s what the public would expect to be done. I’ve lost track of what public expectations are on this issue after it became moot when the courts stepped in.

As someone who qualifies as a “gun grabber” in the lexicon of the gun-rights crowd, I was a happy holdout against Illinois losing its status as the last state that didn’t permit carrying a concealed firearm. But the courts decreed Illinois must allow its citizens to tote guns in public, and this is the law devised to allow that to happen with the expectation the first permit will go out in April.

Dart has been consistent from the start in saying he didn’t like the provision that allowed for local law-enforcement agencies such as the sheriff’s office to get involved.

The law gives law enforcement 30 days once an applicant’s name has been entered into a state database to object “base on a reasonable suspicion . . . the applicant is a danger to himself, herself or others, or a threat to public safety.”

With tens of thousands of applicants expected, no additional resources to check them out and too short a time — 30 days — to raise objections, Dart says he’s being set up for failure. Again, that’s a matter of how you define the mission.

Rep. Brandon Phelps, the Harrisburg Democrat who sponsored the law, said lawmakers certainly did not intend to allow local law enforcement to raise a standing objection, as Dart proposed, to anyone with one or more arrests for domestic violence or gun possession in the last seven years, or any known gang affiliation.

“It’s not part of the law,” Phelps said.

Phelps says Dart’s concerns are overblown and that most problem applicants will be weeded out by the requirement that they hold a valid Firearm Owners Identification Card, which Dart also says is a fallacy.

Dart emphasizes his beef isn’t with the State Police but with the “horrifically unworkable” law itself, and he was harshly critical of those who drafted it, derisively referring to them as “brain surgeons” and “rocket scientists.”

“What in God’s name were these people thinking? What were they thinking?” Dart railed.

They were thinking he didn’t have much to do with it.

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