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Editorial: Iron out concealed carry before courts do

The ongoing debate over concealed carry firearms Illinois reached inWaukegan City Council chambers Monday June 3. | Sun-Times file

The ongoing debate over concealed carry of firearms in Illinois reached into the Waukegan City Council chambers on Monday, June 3. | Sun-Times file

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Updated: May 23, 2013 6:16AM

As the debate over the concealed carrying of weapons in Illinois moves to the state Senate this week, lawmakers should make this their priority:

Whatever legislation passes, it must not put the public at greater risk of gun violence.

Last week, the House failed to help settle the issue, as legislators on each side of the gun issue saw the measure they favored go down to defeat. With a split largely between Chicago area lawmakers who want tight restrictions and Downstate House members more inclined toward an anything-goes approach, it’s clear neither side in that chamber has the votes to prevail.

As the Senate takes up the issue, it should rule out dangerous ideas favored by many lawmakers in the House.

The House alternative backed by the National Rifle Association, for example, would have allowed riders on public transportation to carry concealed guns. Anyone who ever has ridden a jam-packed CTA train knows that if someone reaching into a pocket accidentally discharges a firearm, several other riders are going to be injured, maybe even slain.

While ostensibly prohibiting gun owners from taking weapons into such places as government buildings, bars, casinos, arenas, college campuses and airports, that measure also would have set such minimal penalties that gun advocates who ignored the law and brought in guns anyway wouldn’t have had much to worry about.

Remember when some Illinois restaurants first imposed no-smoking policies without the benefit of stiff penalties? Some people showed up just to flout the rules and smoke. We don’t need a repeat of that with concealed weapons.

Advocates of concealed carry argue it makes citizens safer, but there is no systematic evidence of this. In one recent example, a Texas district attorney and his wife were shot to death last month even though the attorney was armed at all times and knew he had been threatened.

Illinois and the District of Columbia are the only places remaining in America with an outright ban on concealed carry. On Dec. 11, though, the U.S. 7th District Court ruled Illinois law is unconstitutional and gave the Legislature 180 days to agree on a law permitting some kind of concealed carry.

The 180 days runs out on June 9. If the Legislature doesn’t act by then, the case will be sent back to the lower court, and what would happen next is anyone’s guess. The NRA thinks it would be able to get a court injunction that immediately allows anyone with a Firearm Owners Identification Card to carry concealed weapons anywhere they please. But other lawyers say Illinois might be able to argue successfully that its law is reasonable in light of rulings in other federal courts that have been handed down since Dec. 11 and events such as Newtown that have reshaped the national debate on guns. If the court did decide against Illinois’ law, it also would have to rule on whether Chicago’s own ban on concealed carry remains in force.

It would be wisest not to leave such an important issue up to the courts.

On Friday, state Sen. Tim Bivins (R-Dixon) said he and Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) have worked out a deal that would allow for stronger regulations on concealed carry in Cook County than in the rest of the state. Tweaks in the compromise, which follows months of negotiations, were still in the works over the weekend, but the proposal is expected to be distributed to rank-and-file senators next week.

Even if this deal holds up in the Senate, there’s no guarantee it will survive in the House, where the NRA has drawn a line in the sand. But that shouldn’t deter lawmakers from pushing ahead. Illinois needs an agreement that puts the concealed-carry issue to rest. Nobody wants to leave it to the federal courts.

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