Law has tricky mix of where it’s legal for permit holder to have gun
By Dahleen Glanton, Chicago Tribune reporter
December 27, 2013
After a hard-fought battle, Illinois residents next month can begin applying for permits to carry concealed guns in public. But those who do could face another challenge: figuring out where it’s legal to carry a firearm and where having a gun could land them in jail.
While the Illinois statute lays out nearly two dozen places where guns are prohibited — including schools, public parks, government offices and hospitals — it also includes caveats that might seem confusing, even contradictory, particularly to novice gun carriers.
For example, the law prohibits guns at events where there is a large gathering of people, like neighborhood street festivals. But it allows people with guns to walk through a public gathering on the way home, to work or to their car.
That means, according to some firearms instructors, that people could legally walk through the crowd at the South Side Irish Parade with a gun tucked in their belt but they couldn’t hang around and watch the performances.
And although the law forbids guns in public parks, nothing in the statute prohibits someone from carrying a gun on a trail or bike path that goes through a park.
In other words, firearms instructors said, it’s OK to arm yourself while riding a bike through the Cook County Forest Preserves, but you’d better not get off your bike to use the bathroom.
“It’s like a Byzantine maze,” said Colleen Lawson, owner of Lawson Handgun Institute, a firearms training facility on the North Side. “It’s possible to get through it without breaking any laws, but it’s tricky.”
In most cases, permit holders can leave their gun in the glove compartment or the trunk of their vehicle in the parking lot when they go to the Field Museum, Brookfield Zoo or other entertainment venues where firearms are prohibited. But when they go to the post office, they’d better park on the street. Under federal law, firearms aren’t even allowed in the parking lot of a post office in Illinois and most other states.
Though instructors are required to teach the basics of the Illinois and federal statutes during the16-hour training course, Lawson and others said it is inevitable that inadvertent violations will occur. So it is important that permit holders be as familiar as possible with the laws.
The new law also could pose a challenge for law enforcement, according to Cook County sheriff’s officials.
“There is going to be a learning curve for prosecutors and law enforcement as people carrying concealed weapons on our streets in Illinois becomes a reality, particularly in Cook County,” said Cara Smith, spokeswoman for Sheriff Tom Dart.
“We are very heavily populated and also home to a tremendous amount of gun violence. … It will be a challenge on multiple fronts,” she said.
There are serious penalties for violations. The first offense is a Class B misdemeanor, which has a maximum penalty of 180 days in jail and a $2,500 fine. A second violation is a Class A misdemeanor, which could result in up to a year in jail, a $2,500 fine and a six-month suspension of the concealed carry license. A three-time offender could get the same jail sentence, the same fine and a permanent revocation of the concealed carry license.
Lawmakers were forced to cobble together the new law after the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the state’s long-standing concealed carry ban in December 2012.
Some gun rights supporters said the law is needlessly complicated because legislators had to try to appease the anti-gun lobby in Chicago as well as the pro-gun lobby Downstate in order to get it through the General Assembly. Gun supporters point to discrepancies in the law, such as firearms being off-limits in Cook County Forest Preserves but legal in forest preserves in the rest of the state.
“We proposed laws like those in effect in other states, but instead they chose to reinvent the wheel,” said David Lawson, who teaches courses along with his wife, Colleen, and pushed for concealed carry in Springfield. “There are a lot of ‘gotchas’ in there, particularly when it comes to public transportation.”