One week before a federal court deadline, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn on Tuesday demanded that lawmakers approve tougher restrictions as part of a gun possession bill that would make his state the last in the country to allow the concealed carry of firearms.
Quinn cited Chicago's gun violence in declaring that a compromise gun bill that cleared the House and Senate by wide margins was too hurried and influenced by the National Rifle Association. But fellow Democrats who lead the Legislature signaled they would try to override his changes next week.
Using an amendatory veto, Quinn sent the measure back to legislators with significant changes — including a one-gun limit on the number of firearms a person can carry and a ban on weapons in establishments that serve alcohol. Towns also would have the right to enact their own assault weapons bans, beyond just a 10-day window that was part of the bill approved by the Legislature in May.
"There are serious flaws in this bill that jeopardize the public safety of the people of Illinois," said Quinn, surrounded by nearly 100 anti-violence advocates, including relatives of gunfire victims.
Lawmakers who have spent months debating and negotiating the gun bill reacted angrily, accusing Quinn of posturing ahead of a re-election campaign next year in which he likely faces serious challenges even from within his own party. Sponsors of the bill noted the concealed-carry bill passed with well more than the three-fifths majorities needed in both the House and Senate to turn back the governor's demands.
"I think he's playing politics. I'm just saying it like it is," said Rep. Brandon Phelps, a Democratic lawmaker and gun rights advocate from a far southern Illinois district who sponsored the legislation.
Within hours of Quinn's announcement, Illinois' legislative leaders called a session for next Tuesday to deal with the changes. That day is also the deadline the 7th U.S. Circuit Appeals Court gave Illinois to pass a law as part of a December ruling that the state's concealed carry ban was unconstitutional. All 49 other states have laws allowing public, concealed carry of firearms.
It's unclear what happens if the deadline passes without a concealed carry law. Some gun-rights advocates argue residents would be able to carry any type of weapon anywhere, but others believe local communities could enact their own ordinances.
In the Legislature, the heated debate broke down between more conservative lawmakers from outside Chicago who are focused on gun rights and more urban lawmakers worried about gang violence and killings.
Lawmakers balked the timing of Quinn's demands, just before the court deadline and around a month after they sent him the bill.
"I would hope that we quickly get this matter before the General Assembly and have an opportunity to override the veto, allowing the State Police to begin the conceal carry process for trained, law-abiding citizens," state Sen. Bill Haine, an Alton Democrat, said in a statement.
Senate President John Cullerton said there were issues worth discussing with his caucus, but that he would talk with House Speaker Michael Madigan about an override, spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon said. Madigan's spokesman Steve Brown said lawmakers would be back in Springfield next week.
"It's too bad the governor wasn't engaged in the legislative session," Brown said. "Most of the provisions were pretty thoroughly debated in the House and Senate."
The governor's challenge was underscored this week when former White House chief of state Bill Daley, who's preparing a Democratic challenge to Quinn, received an endorsement from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a staunch gun control supporter. In a video posted online late Monday, Bloomberg said Daley is "uniquely qualified to lead Illinois in these challenging times," and "will fight for common sense gun laws
Democratic Attorney General Lisa Madigan also is considering a run.
Quinn, a Chicago resident, has been an insistent advocate for gun control. Last year, he stripped an ammunition sales bill and replaced it with a proposed statewide assault weapons ban, but lawmakers rejected his attempt.
Quinn dismissed the allegations of politics, saying his job right now is to be governor. He said the court's deadline compressed his time to review the bill. He focused on Chicago's violence alongside speakers including the Rev. Michael Pfleger, who has led anti-violence marches, and a former Secret Service agent injured in the shooting of President Ronald Reagan.
"I don't believe in compromising public safety and I don't believe in negotiating public safety," Quinn said.
Vetoes are predominantly executive measures designed to stop legislation, but the amendatory veto allows a governor to try his hand at legislating by suggesting specific changes. The intended extent of those changes has been debated since the 1970 Illinois Constitution granted the power. Only about five other states allow governors amendatory veto power.
The original legislation allows qualified gun owners who pass background checks and undergo training to get carry permits for $150.
Quinn pointed out the bill would allow people to carry more than one gun with unlimited numbers of ammunition rounds. He rewrote it to limit gun owners to carrying one with an ammunition clip holding no more than 10 rounds.
He also called for clarifying language on mental health and objected to language requiring a gun to be "mostly concealed," saying it would lead to a law allowing guns to be carried on the hip.
He said a board considering appeals of denied permits should not be allowed to operate in secret and said gun-toting citizens should be required to notify police, when asked, that they're carrying.
Todd Vandermyde, Illinois lobbyist for the NRA, said he doesn't foresee anything but an override.
"They debated it; they did all of it. Once again you have a governor who doesn't show any leadership skills or abilities," he said.
The bill is HB183.
O'Connor reported from Springfield.
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