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Miller: Behind the scenes of Illinois’ concealed-carry gun debate

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During the House floor debate over the National Rifle Association-backed concealed carry bill last week, I was told by an intimate of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan that the Speaker wanted to make sure the bill received no more than 64 votes.

Because the bill preempts local government home-rule powers, the bill required a three-fifths’ majority of 71 votes to pass.

The anti-gun forces had been demoralized the day before when their highly restrictive concealed-carry proposal received only 31 votes, so Madigan wanted to do the same to the NRA, I was told.

The idea, the source said, was to show both sides that they couldn’t pass their bills on their own and that they needed to get themselves to the bargaining table and work something out.

As you already know, a Chicago federal appeals court has ruled Illinois’ absolute ban on concealed carry is unconstitutional, but the court left open the door to quite a few restrictions. The appellate court gave Illinois a June 9 deadline to enact a new concealed-carry law, so the pressure is on to find a solution. Without legislation, Illinois’ law won’t be enforceable, which likely means people who have firearms owner’s identification cards could walk the streets carrying loaded weapons without a permit.

The NRA bill ended up getting 64 votes, exactly right on Madigan’s reported target number. By the way, that’s three votes fewer than the last roll call on an even less restrictive concealed-carry bill a few months ago, so this was a huge loss for the NRA. And, keep in mind, the NRA was missing one of its supporters during that last roll call. So they actually lost four big votes from the last time around, and lost perhaps as many as nine votes from earlier in the day.

Madigan’s staff worked the bill hard, pulling off votes for their boss. Gov. Pat Quinn, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s people also worked the bill.

Pro-gun forces began the day believing they had more than enough votes to pass it, and they were furious when the tide began to turn against them. But there was nothing they could do as they watched one promised vote after another flip on them.

Afterward, some were defiant, saying they would now just walk away from the table, kill anything they don’t like, and wait for the federal appellate court’s June 9 deadline to arrive, when the state’s unlawful use of a weapon laws relating to public carry would be enjoined from enforcement. Others were more cautious, leaving open the possibility of a deal.

On the other side of the Statehouse, Illinois Sens. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, and Tim Bivins, R-Dixon, said they were close to wrapping up their negotiations over a new concealed-carry law.

Raoul said the tentative proposal would be unveiled within days. It contains what will undoubtedly be a controversial “endorsement” clause. If approved, anyone who is awarded a concealed-carry permit by the Illinois State Police could carry anywhere in Illinois except Cook County and Chicago. If they want to carry there, they’ll have to apply for an “endorsement” from local law enforcement. An appeals process was being added to the language for those who are denied an endorsement, Raoul said.

The NRA’s top lobbyist responded that he would attempt to kill any such bill, but Bivins, who was Lee County’s sheriff for 20 years, didn’t seem hugely concerned that the final proposal might not be seen favorably by the NRA.

Back in the House, Rep. Mike Zalewski, D-Riverside, held out hope that a deal could still be struck in his chamber. Zalewski, who voted “present” on the NRA’s concealed-carry bill, has been one of the go-betweens in the negotiations with the NRA and anti-gun groups.

Zalewski said he opposed some lowered penalties in the NRA bill and wanted other items, including more restrictions in government buildings. He also said that people with concealed-carry permits in other states should meet the same training requirements as those imposed in Illinois.

But the pro-gun forces complained that they’ve been negotiating with themselves. They repeatedly compromised, only to see the goal posts moved farther away.

• Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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