A federal appeals court on Friday narrowly rejected Illinois' request to reconsider a ruling that found the state's concealed carry weapons ban unconstitutional, leaving lawmakers in the only state that still prohibits concealed carry more certain than ever they must come up with a new law.
The 5-4 ruling by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals gave state Attorney General Lisa Madigan the option of appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court — a move that could affect gun laws in other states. It also came on the same day that state lawmakers held a hearing on the issue in Chicago — a city that's drawn national attention for its gun violence and rising homicide rate, including last month's death of a 15-year-old honor student a mile from President Barack Obama's home.
Madigan said in a statement she has not yet decided whether to appeal. But she said a dissent written by four of the judges "provided a clear framework to guide the legislature in drafting a new law." Those judges said some restrictions — including limits on who may carry and where they may do so — could be considered constitutional.
"With the 180-day deadline still in place, it is critical that the legislature continue to work to enact a law that will protect public safety," said Madigan, a Democrat from Chicago.
In Chicago, at the second of a series of Illinois House Judiciary Committee hearings, word of the court's decision seemed to change the tenor of various speakers' comments. Advocates who for years have fought for gun control legislation took turns urging lawmakers to make sure the bill they pass prohibits guns in places such as schools, hospitals, restaurants, churches, nursing homes and commuter trains.
"It would be a recipe for disaster," Chicago Transit Authority President Forrest Claypool said of allowing guns on public transportation.
At the same time, gun rights advocates who crowded into the downtown hearing room were buoyed by the court's ruling. Many applauded several times and smiled when Todd Vandermyde of the National Rifle Association said the court ruling, along with several previous court rulings, left the state no choice but to enact a concealed carry law.
"This is a fundamentally, constitutionally protected civil right," he said.
Madigan had asked for the entire 10-judge federal appellate court to consider the case after a three-judge panel in December gave lawmakers until June 9 to legalize the concealed carry of firearms. She argued that the ruling conflicts with decisions by other federal appellate courts and goes beyond what the U.S. Supreme Court has held.
In a 5-4 decision, with one judge not participating, the court denied Madigan's request.
The majority did not expand on the opinion written by Judge Richard Posner in December, which said there is "no suggestion that some unique characteristic of criminal activity in Illinois justifies the state's taking a different approach from the other 49 states."
Richard Pearson, the executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, said the ruling makes clear that courts believe the prohibition violates Second Amendment rights. If Madigan opts to appeal and the U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear the case it's possible the justices could strike down not only Illinois' ban on concealed carry, but also gun restrictions in other states, such as New York and Maryland.
"If she does (appeal), I would be happy," Pearson said. "There's a very good chance they'll rule in our favor."
Madigan has 90 days to decide whether to ask the high court to hear the case.
Lawmakers, meanwhile, are working to craft legislation that could get the approval of legislators from Chicago — a city with some of the strictest gun ordinances in the nation — as well as from the state's more rural and conservative areas, where there's more support for gun rights.
Some Republicans and more conservative Democrats say Illinois should be a "shall issue" state, in which anyone who meets prescribed criteria must get a permit to carry. More left-leaning Democrats want to be a "may issue" state, meaning local police could deny a permit even if the applicant's background is otherwise clear.
Gov. Pat Quinn, a Chicago Democrat, and other gun control advocates also want any new gun legislation to include a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and to prohibit concealed carry in public places such as sports stadiums and shopping malls.
Vandermyde said he would oppose many of the limits proposed by gun control advocates, saying the cumulative effect of their desired restrictions would amount to a ban — adding that he would not be in favor of prohibiting guns on public transportation.
At least one lawmaker, State Rep. Dennis Reboletti, a Republican from the Chicago suburbs had his own reservations about banning weapons on buses and trains.
"My concern is the gang members will always carry," Reboletti said, drawing a round of applause from gun rights advocates.