SPRINGFIELD — Lawmakers made Illinois the last state to allow concealed carry of firearms in two quick votes Tuesday that formalized the deepening rift between Gov. Pat Quinn and the legislature.
The House and Senate voted to override Quinn’s amendatory veto of a legislative compromise aimed at satisfying a federal court deadline for legalizing some form of public possession of firearms. Illinois was the last state without some form of legal concealed carry, but the appeals court ruled late last year that the ban was unconstitutional.
While Tuesday’s court deadline for passing a law was a major motivating factor, the 77-31 House vote and 41-17 Senate roll call were more than a rejection of Quinn’s efforts to toughen the regulations — they were a repudiation of the Democratic governor’s leadership style by a Democratic-led legislature.
Quinn, who has said he will seek a second elected term as governor next year, found Democrats assailing his lack of direct involvement in the legislative negotiations that led to the compromise bill that originally passed the General Assembly on May 31— the final day of the spring session.
“It was all grandstanding and he should be ashamed of himself,” said Rep. Brandon Phelps, the Harrisburg Democrat who sponsored the override.
“He thumbed his nose at our compromise,” said Phelps, who had accused Quinn of political pandering to voters supportive of tight gun control in Democratic-dominated Cook County. Phelps said the House and Senate votes send a “pretty strong message to the governor that he was wrong the whole time.”
The complaints about Quinn’s handling of the gun debate mirrored those from lawmakers on Illinois’ most vexing issue — the state’s massive unfunded liability for public employee pensions. Lawmakers also blew through Quinn’s Tuesday deadline for a special bipartisan panel to come up with a pension fix — something that has been elusive for the past two years.
“Anyone who doesn’t understand that we’re going to run this bill over his objections doesn’t understand government,” Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, said about the gun bill. He urged the governor not to make the same mistake on pensions: “I want Gov. Quinn to get in the game.”
Quinn had issued a blanket criticism of lawmakers — including gun control allies who supported the bill — as “genuflecting” to the National Rifle Association. Following the vote, he defended his efforts to work with lawmakers but said the General Assembly had “surrendered” to the NRA.
“With respect to working and getting the job done, I think the people of Illinois know that I work every day for their common good. I believe in gun safety, and I’m going to always speak out about that. I don’t think people should have their lives and property harmed by people with loaded concealed weapons who don’t, under the law, deserve to have them,” he said.
Quinn promised to continue seeking the changes he had proposed, including banning firearms from establishments that sell any alcohol, limiting a person to carrying one concealed firearm at a time, and restricting magazines for concealed weapons to no more than 10 rounds.
The governor was successful in peeling off some votes from gun control advocates. The measure originally got 89 House votes and 45 Senate votes. But faced with the prospect that the legislature’s failure to enact a law could lead to unregulated concealed carry, even gun control supporters in the legislature urged an override of the governor.
Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, who negotiated the measure on behalf of gun control advocates, said he felt conflicted by rejecting Quinn’s changes because he originally sought to include many of them. He warned that voting with Quinn was a “political vote” but one that endangered public safety if no law was enacted.
“There’s no more time,” Raoul said. “We are here on July 9th and if the members of this chamber have the interests of public safety at their heart, they would vote ‘yes’ to override.”
It will be several months before qualified gun owners can carry a concealed firearm outside their homes while the Illinois State Police puts together licensing procedures and applicant reviews.
But the legislature’s decision to override Quinn and stick to its agreed-upon compromise may represent only a short-lived truce between gun rights advocates and gun control supporters in a state where there is a vast divergence over how firearms are viewed, dependent largely upon cultural and regional differences.
Even a late effort by lawmakers to amend another bill to reflect three mostly minor changes that the governor had proposed ended up falling short of the votes needed in the House after first passing the Senate.
Phelps acknowledged now that the law is in effect, “you’re going to see political posturing on both sides of this issue.”
Sen. Christine Radogno of Lemont, the Senate Republican leader, told colleagues that “I don’t think this is the last time we’re going to be discussing this issue.” And Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, a gun control supporter, said “it is a very safe bet that we will be back” fighting over changes in the new law.
Cassidy noted the new law removes the ability of larger communities to set some of their own gun laws and said she feared gun rights supporters are “going to be back here time after time after time chipping away at all the things that everyone has lauded as the great protections.”
Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, said lawmakers “can and should add more protections to when and how people can carry guns in public places. I believe in give-and-take and compromise, but we can’t bargain away the safety of our families.”
Richard Pearson, who heads the Illinois State Rifle Association, cheered the vote of legislators to overcome Quinn’s efforts to make the legislation more restrictive. But he also said that the new law was “not perfect” and that it would be reviewed and fine-tuned when necessary.
The governor, whose political roots were established by embracing populist causes, has found his grass-roots support on major issues tested as he faces a primary challenge next year from Bill Daley and, perhaps, Attorney General Lisa Madigan. Quinn maintained he has the support of Illinois residents in his quest to impose tougher gun regulations.
“The people of Illinois are good and true and we are going to get the amendments I outlined,” Quinn said. “We’re going to have to fight ever harder to get them adopted one by one by this legislature because that’s what makes common sense to the people of Illinois.”