Cook County Prosecutors: No New Gun Laws Despite Federal Court Ruling
By Benjamin Yount | Illinois Watchdog
SPRINGFIELD — Prosecutors in Chicago are telling state lawmakers they can essentially ignore a federal court ruling and not legalize concealed carry in Illinois.
The Illinois House on Tuesday held the first of two statewide hearings on how to legally allow people to carry a gun in the state. Illinois is the only state in the nation that bars anyone from carrying a pistol outside their home. In December, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals said Illinois must change that.
But Paul Castiglione, policy director for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office, told lawmakers there is no need for a new law.
“Only the Illinois Supreme Court can declare a statue from (the legislature) unconstitutional,” Castiglione told lawmakers Tuesday. “I heard (someone) say that after 180 days our UUW (unlawful use of weapon) statute is unconstitutional. Not so.”
But Cook County State’s Attorney ‘s office seems to be the only one willing to gamble that Illinois is not bound by the federal court.
Chicago Democrat Mike Zalewski said unless and until Castiglione has a different court order or legal opinion, he should keep his mouth shut.
Trying to work here
Rep. Mike Zalewski says lawmakers need to focus on constitutional gun laws.
“We’re charged with passing a constitutional (law) down here in the next 60 to 90 days,” Zalewski said. “And if there is a dissenting belief that there is no ticking clock, it’s going to cause all of us who wish to come to a constitutional, fair, and balanced solution (to have) a more difficult slog ahead.”
Castiglione said he has not spoken with the Illinois Attorney General or any of the state’s other 101 prosecutors.
Todd Vandermyde, lobbyist for the Illinois State Rifle Association, said a number of courts have been ruled and the impact is clear.
“We went to court and won,” Vandermyde told lawmakers as he explained what a new law should look like.
The ISRA’s Todd Vandermyde says if Illinois waits, there will be no laws to stop people from carrying guns.
“This is not like pensions, that you can kick the can down the road forever,” Vandermyde said. “On or about June 8th or June 10th, the clock runs out.”
When the clock runs out, Vandermyde and a number of lawmakers say anyone in Illinois who has a valid firearms owner identification card will be able to carry any weapon they want almost anywhere they want.
State Rep. Dennis Reboletti, R-Elmhurst, said gun control supporters need to realize that.
“It’s very frustrating to me, as a Representative, that we have the city of Chicago with three million people that won’t negotiate with the General Assembly,” Reboletti said. “We see a lot of that here, where it’s all or nothing. Pretty soon it’s going to be nothing.”
The Rifle Assocoiation’s Vandermyde said leaders in Chicago have decided to make guns into the “boogeyman” and blame guns for problems with jobs, schools and families that the city cannot solve.
Chicago Democrat Andre Thapedi said there are a lot of still unanswered questions about how a statewide concealed carry law would work in Chicago.
“I want to ensure that law-abiding citizens have their rights protected,” Thapedi added. “At the same token, the spirit of what the city of Chicago is trying to do, as far as keeping safeguards and reasonable restrictions on gun use are in play.”
Chicago has been one of the most violent cities in America in recent months. President Obama was just in the city last week to speak about gun violence, but the speech did not stop a handful of weekend shootings.
Illinois lawmakers will host their second hearing on gun legislation next week in Chicago. Lawmakers have until the last day of the spring session on May 31 or until the federal court deadline June 9th to pass some sort of concealed carry law.
Illinois House Democrats were told during a private caucus meeting in Springfield last week that, despite what Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez says, inaction on concealed carry would have very serious consequences.
As you most assuredly already know, a federal appellate court has given the General Assembly until June 8th to pass a new law allowing some form of public carrying of loaded weapons. After that deadline, Illinois’ laws against public carrying would be struck down. Illinois is the only state in the nation which totally bars concealed or open carry by citizens.
However, an aide to Alvarez told the House Judiciary Committee last week, that the federal appellate ruling means nothing to the state.
Paul Castiglione, a representative of State’s Attorney Alvarez, dropped a bomb during a House Judiciary Committee hearing called to discuss concealed carry when he declared that until the US or Illinois Supreme courts rule, the appellate decision is “not binding” on the state.
“Only the Illinois Supreme Court can declare a statute from this body to be unconstitutional,” Castiglione told the committee’s members. He also took aim at warnings by the National Rifle Association that if no new concealed carry law is put into place before the deadline, then gun owners would be free to carry assault rifles down Michigan Ave.
Castiglione insisted that his office would continue to enforce the current law. “Anyone who decides, for example, to walk down Michigan Ave. in Chicago carrying an AK-15 [sic] would be subject to arrest and prosecution,” he said.
But that’s not how the House Democratic legal staff sees the world.
At one point during that closed-door Democratic caucus meeting, Rep. Ken Dunkin (D-Chicago) rose to ask whether staff was claiming that if nothing passes the General Assembly, then after June 8th he could legally carry a loaded semi-automatic rifle into the Statehouse.
“Yes,” he was told.
A stunned silence fell over the caucus meeting, said several House Democrats who attended. “I think they finally get it now,” said one pro-gun HDem.
Some historically anti-gun members talked after the committee about how they now need to vote for a concealed carry bill. So, Dunkin’s question and the answer given appear to have worked. At least for now, quite a lot of members are not willing to kick this particular can down the road.
Trouble is, Secretary of State Jesse White’s office says no way will they allow people to walk into the Statehouse with a gun, regardless of what happens this spring. They believe they have statutory authority to back them up, and White controls access to the Capitol Building, so he should know.
Secretary White has long been a gun control proponent. In fact, according to a recent poll by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, he’s in the mainstream of Illinois thought on this topic.
The survey found that 72 percent of Illinoisans believe that “laws covering the sale of firearms should be made more strict,” while just 2.2 percent said they should be less strict. Another 21 percent said they should remain the same and 4 percent didn’t know.
According to the Institute, even 66 percent of Downstate voters, 55 percent of conservatives and 55 percent of Republicans favor stricter gun control in Illinois.
One issue pushed by liberals is banning high-capacity ammunition magazines of more than ten rounds, and the poll found that 63 percent wanted that done. Just 33 percent opposed the idea. According to the poll, 52 percent of Downstaters support the ban (42 percent oppose), as well as 46 percent of conservatives (46 percent oppose) and 44 percent of Republicans (50 percent oppose). 68 percent of women and 58 percent of men favor the ban, the poll found.
And a clear plurality of 49.7 percent said they believed the US Constitution’s 2nd Amendment does not include the right to carry a concealed weapon in public, while just 39.5 percent said it does and 11 percent didn’t know. However, 50 percent of Downstaters said the 2nd Amendment does include this right, while 36 percent said it doesn’t. 68 percent of Democrats says it doesn’t include the right, while 62 percent of Republicans says it does, showing a very significant partisan divide.
A carry law has to be passed, but as that poll clearly shows, it ain’t gonna be easy.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.