The state of Illinois would have to allow ordinary citizens to carry weapons under a federal appeals court ruling issued today, but the judges also gave lawmakers 180 days to put their own version of the law in place.
In a 2-1 decision that is a major victory for the National Rifle Association, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals said the state's ban on carrying a weapon in public is unconstitutional.
"We are disinclined to engage in another round of historical analysis to determine whether eighteenth-century America understood the Second Amendment to include a right to bear guns outside the home. The Supreme Court has decided that the amendment confers a right to bear arms for self-defense, which is as important outside the home as inside," the judges ruled.
"The theoretical and empirical evidence (which overall is inconclusive) is consistent with concluding that a right to carry firearms in public may promote self-defense. Illinois had to provide us with more than merely a rational basis for believing that its uniquely sweeping ban is justified by an increase in public safety. It has failed to meet this burden.
"The Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Second Amendment compelled the appeals court to rule the ban unconstitutional, the judges said. But the court gave 180 days to "allow the Illinois legislature to craft a new gun law that will impose reasonable limitations, consistent with the public safety and the Second Amendment as interpreted in this opinion, on the carrying of guns in public."
David Sigale, an attorney who represented the Second Amendment Foundation in the lawsuit, called the decision by the appeals court in Chicago “historic.”
“What we are most pleased about is how the court has recognized that the Second Amendment is just as, if not at times more, important in public as it is in the home,” he said. “The right of self-defense doesn’t end at your front door.”
In the opinion, Posner wrote that “Twenty-first century Illinois has no hostile Indians. But a Chicagoan is a good deal more likely to be attacked on a sidewalk in a rough neighborhood than in his apartment on the 35th floor of the Park Tower.”
Illinois is the only state in the nation not to have some form of conceal carry after Wisconsin recently approved law.
"The (Illinois) legislature, in the new session, will be forced to take up a statewide carry law," said NRA lobbyist Todd Vandermyde.
The lobbyist said prior attempts to reach a middle ground with opponents will no longer be necessary because "those compromises are going out the window."
House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, a longtime gun control advocate, said she hoped the state would appeal the ruling. But Currie also said lawmakers must “get cracking” on how to respond to the ruling and begin parsing its key points.
Currie, D-Chicago, said that “justices surely do not mean that we would have to have wide-open” laws in Illinois. She said Illinois must now look at what other states are doing, such as disallowing guns in day-care centers and other locations.
“If we need to change the law, let us at least craft a law that is very severely constrained and narrowly tailored so that we don’t invite guns out of control on each of our city’s streets,” Currie said. “I don’t want people out of control wandering the streets with guns that are out of control.”
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office is reading the just-issued opinion and is unable at this point to comment about the prospects of filing an appeal, a spokeswoman said.
A spokeswoman for Gov. Pat Quinn said the administration is reviewing the decision. The governor has previously said he was firmly opposed to any law allowing citizens to carry loaded guns in public. He threatened to veto previous attempts by lawmakers to pass legislation allowing concealed carry in Illinois.
A spokeswoman for Mayor Rahm Emanuel said city lawyers were reading the court ruling and would issue a comment this afternoon.
Last March, the mayor introduced a resolution passed by the City Council in opposition to state legislation that would have allowed people to carry firearms in public. Like former Mayor Richard Daley before him, Emanuel has long been a proponent of gun control.
Under Daley, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Chicago’s handgun ban. In mid-2010, the council enacted new gun-control measures, even as many aldermen conceded it would do little to quell crime. Those regulations require that Chicago handgun owners obtain a permit after undergoing mandatory firearms training and register their weapons.
Reaction to the decision is rolling in from City Hall to the Capitol.
Ald. Howard Brookins, 21st, chairman of the City Council black caucus, welcomed the decision, saying allowing Chicagoans to carry concealed weapons would help level the playing field in neighborhoods where law-abiding citizens feel like they need firearms to protect themselves.
"Certain people will have a sense of safety and peace of mind in the ability to do it," Brookins said of conceal-carry. "I know that even people, for example, just trying to see that their loved ones get homes safely are in technical violation of all sorts of weapons violations. If you just walk out to your garage and see that your wife is coming in the house safely, and you happen to have your gun on you, you're in technical violation of our ordinance. So I would hope all these ordinances would be consolidated so there's one set of rules and people would know where the bright line is to what they can and cannot do with respect to carrying a weapon."
Brookins said he's not worried doing away with the state ban would lead to an increase in gun violence as more people walk the streets with weapons. "I think those people have a gun now, they've just been made criminals because they can't legally have it," Brookins said. "And I think the gangbangers and thugs are going to have a gun regardless."