Local police give support to conceal carry
By Matt Hanley and Dave Gathman firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com August 6, 2011 7:00PM
The Illinois Legislature may still be divided on allowing residents to carry concealed weapons, but Fox Valley police chiefs and sheriffs are much less split. Of 10 local law enforcement leaders contacted by The Beacon-News, none said they opposed concealed carry. Aug. 5, 2011. | Photo illustration by Steven Buyansky~Sun-Times Media
Support — NRA: www.nraila.org/gunlaws/
Oppose — Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence: www.bradycenter.org/
Updated: November 16, 2011 1:47AM
The Illinois Legislature may still be divided on allowing residents to carry concealed weapons, but Fox Valley police chiefs and sheriffs are much less split.
Of the dozen area law enforcement leaders contacted by The Courier-News, none said they opposed concealed carry.
For Sleepy Hollow Police Chief Jim Montalbano, carrying guns and defending oneself strike very close to home.
Last fall, Montalbano was attacked by a man trying to break into his home and ended up grappling with the would-be intruder.
“Actually, I was carrying a gun at the time, but I didn’t need to use it and he had no idea I was armed,” Montalbano said. “The guy was high on drugs and had no idea I was a policeman. But if he had gotten inside the house and was threatening my wife, maybe I would have used the gun.”
Montalbano said he sees a gun as a “precision instrument,” a tool that can be used for good or bad. Therefore, he said, he would support allowing concealed-carry so long as anyone licensed to carry a gun were required to through proper training about how to work this tool, and about when and how deadly force can be used.
“We don’t have problems with legal guns owned by responsible, trained people. We have a problem with irresponsible and criminal people who have guns,” Montalbano said.
“I don’t have a problem with cars or airplanes, either. Are guns dangerous? Of course they are. But so are cars and airplanes. You don’t let someone drive a car or fly an airplane without training them to do that safely. Even police officers are required by state law to shoot (on a training range) at least once a year.
“I’m not going to go out and campaign for the law. But done responsibly, with proper training, I’m not opposed to it.”
The Sleepy Hollow chief was reminded about a recent Elgin case in which a middle-aged man found a group of teens burglarizing his car and fired several shots in their direction, which he reportedly has said were meant only to scare the boys away. A bullet hit one teen in the head, killing him, and the car owner now is charged with manslaughter.
Firearms training will tell you that “there’s no such thing as a warning shot,” Montalbano commented. If you’re ready to fire a gun toward someone, you had better be prepared to see them killed, he said.
“Shooting the bad guy in the hand or the foot, that’s Hollywood stuff. It doesn’t happen. Save it for the movies.”
Montalbano is in the majority locally. While some department leader’s felt more strongly than others, all who were contacted would at least consider supporting concealed carry legislation.
And that response probably is not surprising. The Illinois Sheriffs’ Association long has been in favor of concealed carry. Last year, the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police went from “against” concealed carry to “neutral” — a significant change after years of opposition.
Law enforcement’s opinion on any potential legislation likely will weigh heavily as the debate continues in Illinois. Since Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed that state’s concealed carry bill into law in July, Illinois is the last state with a complete ban on carrying concealed weapons.
That makes it the next big prize in the fierce national contest over gun control, with the National Rifle Association and its allies targeting it.
“We never give up,” said Andrew Arulanandam, public affairs director for the National Rifle Association. “We’ve been around 140 years as an organization. If we don’t get something this time around, we’re going to work until we get it.”
Despite the obstacles, gun-rights advocates believe time and political momentum are on their side. Pro-gun groups expect to make another push this fall or next spring. They’re also pursuing at least two lawsuits. A hearing on one of those suits, filed by a Champaign resident and the Second Amendment Foundation, a gun-rights group, against Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office and the state was held Thursday in U.S. District Court in Springfield.
South Elgin Police Chief Chris Merritt said that while he is not opposed to concealed carry in theory, he does have reservations about people acting as vigilantes.
“My concern would be that those with conceal carry believe they have some implied right to be law enforcement and involve themselves in situations that they should not be involved with and cannot handle,” Merritt said. “In those situations, they should be calling police and not try to deal with a criminal act on their own,” he said.
At the same time, he added, the police are given training and testing to ensure that they can handle the stress of shooting someone and know how to handle their weapons.
“We go through a lot of psychological and skills testing so that we can handle it — so that we can emotionally handle it if we have to,” Merritt said.
Pingree Grove Police Chief Carol Lussky said she has no problem with Illinois changing its law.
“I know it’s going to happen in Illinois, because we’re the only holdout state in the country,” she said “As long as the law is worded properly and the proper things are required to get a permit, it should be all right.
“The law-abiding citizens who will get the permits are probably people we never have any contact with anyway. And they’ll all have training in what to do with a gun.”
Leaders of the Elgin Police Department could not be reached for comment Friday.
Geneva Police Cmdr. Eric Passarelli said without specific legislation to look over, the department has a “wait-and-see approach.”
“If there was legislation that was well-crafted and assured for strict standards for implementation and compliance, we would definitely take a look at it,” Passarelli said. “In regards to whether or not it would make our town safer, I do not believe it would. We have the privilege of providing police services to a wonderful community with a fairly low crime rate and a low volume of violent crime.”
Leaders from other departments openly support concealed carry, offering similar arguments. If bad guys have guns, then citizens should be able to protect themselves, officials said.
Kane County Sheriff Pat Perez said in departments like his, which cover large territories, backup sometimes can be far away. If an officer were being threatened by a suspect with a gun and a permitted resident came to help, “I don’t know too many officers that would say, ‘No, go away,’” Perez said.
Of course, permitting would be key, officials said. The restrictions and training would have to be strict. Yorkville Chief Rich Hart wants local chiefs to be able to revoke permits instantly in an emergency situation.
Some states still restrict concealed weapons in certain areas, like government buildings or schools. Local chiefs were split on what, if anything, should be exempt from concealed carry.
Illinois’ gun history
Nobody can be confident about what will happen in Illinois without knowing why it has clung to a policy that every other state rejects. There’s no single explanation, however. Illinois has held out for a long list of reasons: A strong gun control movement. A dynasty of powerful Chicago mayors. A lineup of state leaders who oppose expanding access to guns.
In much of the state, guns are commonplace, used for hunting and target-shooting. But in Chicago, guns are associated with crime. People worry that concealed guns will mean more shootings. But plenty of states have legalized concealed carry despite having large cities where gun crimes are a major concern: New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania and others.
Harry Wilson, a gun control expert at Virginia’s Roanoke College, suggested the difference could be that the major cities in those states don’t have the same political muscle as Chicago — home to two legendary mayors named Daley, both who served more than 20 years. Both Daleys emphasized gun control. The city’s new mayor, Rahm Emanuel, who took office in May, certainly won’t abandon the issue, but might not consider concealed carry to be a top priority.
The state’s most powerful politicians come from Chicago and collectively dominate the Illinois Legislature. The governor, Senate president, House speaker and attorney general all are Chicago Democrats. Gov. Pat Quinn has promised to veto concealed carry legislation if it were to reach his desk.
But Quinn’s role might not matter if concealed carry were to win legislative approval, which would require a three-fifths vote under procedural rules. When the Illinois House voted on the issue in June, concealed carry had a 65-32 majority but still failed. It needed 71 votes to pass. But that means if it ever reaches the governor, it would have enough votes to overcome Quinn’s veto.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Brandon Phelps, a Democrat from Harrisburg in rural southern Illinois, said support is inching up because of the state’s new legislative districts. With Chicago’s population declining, many of the city’s districts have been redrawn to stretch out into the suburbs. So some city-based politicians may wind up running partly in areas that are more sympathetic to legalizing concealed weapons.
“I see more Chicago legislators opening up to talk,” Phelps said.
And if every other state lets people carry concealed guns, it’s no longer possible to argue the idea is radical and dangerous, gun rights advocates say.
Phelps hopes to hold another vote during the Legislature’s brief fall session or when they resume normal business next year.
Correspondent Janelle Walker and The Associated Press contributed to this report.