It is virtually impossible to to open a newspaper or turn on a television without seeing news about political battles related to gun control. The issue has been near the forefront of policy proposals at both the state and federal level in recent months. Here in Illinois most of the debate has centered on the “concealed carry” law and recent federal court rulings which determined those state laws to violate the federal constitution.
Considering the bureaucratic complexity surrounding these issues, many local residents may be confused about what the law is now and how it might change in the future.
Court Rulings in Illinois
Illinois is well-known nationally as the only state in the country that does not allow most residents to possess a firearm in public. The law reads, in part:
(a) a person commits the offense of unlawful use of weapons when he knowingly:
*** (4) Carries or possesses in any vehicle or concealed on or about his person except when on his land or in his abode or fixed place of business any pistol, revolver, stun gun, taser or other firearm.” 720 ILCS 5/24-1(a)(4)(West 1994).
Essentially this means that it is illegal to carry a firearm outside of one’s home with certain limited exceptions (i.e. law enforcement officers, hunters, at licensed target ranges, etc.).
But, those laws may soon change. That’s because in mid-December of last year, the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling that struck down part of the Illinois Criminal Code that dealt with unlawful use of a weapon. Basing their decision in large part on high-profile U.S Supreme Court gun rights cases from 2008 (District of Columbia v. Heller) and 2010 (McDonald v. Chicago), the federal appeals court found in a 2-1 decision that “the Supreme Court has decided that the [second] amendment confers a right to bear arms for self-defense, which is as important outside the home as inside.”
What Happens Next?
The ruling did not itself automatically change the law–that can only be done by the legislature. Instead, the court gave the General Assembly 180 days to change the law to comport with constitutional requirements. The six month clock is set to expire in June.
In the meantime, policymakers in Springfield have put forward many different proposals to change the criminal code as it relates to unlawful possession of a firearm. However, none of those proposals have yet to pass. At the same time the Illinois Attorney General, Lisa Madigan, is weighing options to continue legal challenges. Last month the full 7th Circuit Court upheld the decision of the three member panel from December. That means that the only available option is an attempt at a U.S. Supreme Court appeal. The Attorney General has 90 days from the latest decision to make that final appeal.
The bottom line is that big changes are likely coming in the state as it applies to firearm possession laws. It is critical for all local residents to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney if they are facing gun charges or have questions about how the law might apply in their case.