CHICAGO — Guns on trains and buses were a hot-button issue of the concealed-carry debate at a hearing Friday in Chicago.
The Illinois House Judiciary Committee came to the city to hold another in a series of hearings on gun issues just as a federal appeals court was rejecting efforts to turn back an order to allow Illinois citizens to carry guns in public.
At the legislative hearing, training requirements for those who wish to carry guns, and the rights of local governments to create their own standards, also sparked argument.
Local officials ranging from Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle to Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy to Chicago Transit Authority President Forrest Claypool and Aldermen Willie Cochran (20th) and Harry Osterman (48th) all argued against concealed weapons being allowed on mass transit.
"We're afraid it will cause massive fear among our riders," said Jordan Matyas, chief of staff for the Regional Transportation Authority.
Ronald Holt, father of Blair Holt, a teenager killed on a CTA bus in a 2007 shooting, rejected the idea that a legal gun owner on the bus could have prevented the shooting.
"There would have been more bloodletting on that bus," Holt said, calling for any future concealed-carry law to prohibit weapons on public transportation.
Todd Vandermyde, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association who helped craft House Bill 997, which would set up the framework for concealed carry in Illinois, rejected a mass transit exception.
Exceptions would "draw large circles and create large non-carry areas," thus making concealed carry all but moot, he said.
"This is a fundamental, constitutionally protected civil right," he said.
Many gun-control proponents wanted the exemption on concealed carry — put forth for schools, colleges, hospitals and sporting events — to be extended to any place serving liquor, which McCarthy said would rightfully extend to city street festivals. Others suggested any restaurant should be able to restrict service to those who would like to carry guns.
Glenn Keefer, an owner of Keefer's Restaurant, said he did not want to be in the business of asking customers to show their concealed-weapon permits.
In the area of required training, Cochran, a 26-year Chicago cop as well as an alderman, said he wanted the "same guidelines" applied to concealed-carry permit holders as police have to meet.
McCarthy said police recruits go through 80 hours of firearms training "and we make mistakes all the time." He added that he is "very, very concerned with people being adequately trained."
"We're not cops," Vandermyde said, arguing that no training is required for self defense or to defend one's home or property. He cited how the bill does call for permit applicants to pass written and range exams.
"You're right, Chicago and Cook County are special. They're especially abusive to the rights of gun owners," he said. "We think it's a right that deserves a single, uniform standard across the state."
The need for that standard was created in December, when the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Illinois' position as the only state to outlaw concealed weapons. That ruling was issued by a majority of the court, not the court in its entirety.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan appealed for the entire court to hear the case, but the court decided against that Friday, allowing its ruling to stand and maintaining a 180-day deadline it set for the state to pass adequate legislation.
If the General Assembly fails to pass a bill by mid-June, federal guidelines much more loose than those being suggested would take effect.
While Madigan could take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, she issued a statement Friday saying, "It is critical that the legislature continue to work to enact a law that will protect public safety."
State Rep. Scott Drury (D-Highland Park) clashed with Vandermyde over an auditor general's report showing that the State Police were not being adequately informed of mental issues on required background checks for weapons permits.
The legislator asked specifically if the NRA was "willing to wait" for those issues to be resolved.
"We want the law implemented in the court's timeline," Vandermyde responded, adding that he didn't want the auditor general's report to serve as an excuse to "drag out" the process.
Other ancillary gun-control issues, such as background checks for all gun sales, reporting all gun transfers and mandatory minimum sentences for gun violations, also came up in the debate.
McCarthy said "reasonable gun laws and mandatory minimums" were essential to New York's 80 percent drop in its murder rate since 1990, at the same time its incarceration rate was also falling.
"Gun violence is something we can do something about today," McCarthy said, unlike the more complex issues of poverty, education and unemployment.
Yet Vandermyde fought the call for legal gun owners to report all transfers, saying, "Every time we've seen registration systems used, they've been abused."
He suggested that obligating gun owners to report lost, sold or stolen firearms "tees up a law-abiding gun owner in a gotcha situation."
Yolan Henry, who like Ronald Holt spoke as the parent of a murdered child, countered the NRA's Second Amendment argument by saying, "We also have the right, and our children have the right — to live."