Three years ago, Illinois became the last state in the nation to legalize the concealed carrying of firearms. Since then, the Illinois State Police has distributed more than 181,000 licenses, according to a recent report by the organization Reboot Illinois.
A number of Southern Illinois counties appear high on the list of per-capita concealed carry license holders, and Pope County leads the group, with 42.3 license holders per 1,000 residents.
Reached by the Southern last week, Pope County Sheriff Jerry Suits said, “We haven’t had any troubles down here at all with it (the concealed carry law), and I don’t expect any troubles with it. It’s a good thing for Illinois, and I think it’s a good thing for Pope County.”
Sean Smoot, director and chief legal counsel at the Illinois Police Benevolent and Protective Association, agrees that the concealed carry law has had minimal effects on law enforcement.
“So far it’s had, frankly, very little impact,” Smoot said. “I think there were concerns voiced by opponents to the law that it would create a more dangerous atmosphere for law enforcement officers. We have not seen that bear out since the law has come into place. The fact of the matter is, it seems to me, that most of the folks who apply for and get concealed carry permits are very conscientious about the law.”
Most concealed carry advocates seem to feel the same way — the “bad guys” aren’t the people who go through the red tape to obtain a concealed carry license. A high price tag also acts as a deterrent for would-be criminals, some say: Setting aside the cost of a firearm and ammunition, the concealed carry application fee costs $150, and required 16-hour training courses range from $150 to $300.
Bill Fenton opened his Murphysboro gun shop, Alpha and Omega Guns and Gear, in August 2015, about a year after state officials began issuing concealed carry licenses. A sizable portion of his clientele legally carries concealed firearms, and Fenton does too, each and every day.
“People are realizing what’s going on, that the world’s getting a little scary, and they’re choosing to protect themselves by carrying a weapon,” he said.
Fenton, who also teaches concealed carry training courses at his facility, said the law has led to robust sales of smaller handguns in his store — models such as M&P Bodyguards, Ruger LC9s, Sig Sauer P238s.
“I think as long as people do it correctly, go to a reputable trainer and learn the law, it’s a very good thing,” Fenton said.
But according to the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, there are other factors at work.
“While we do know that the majority of gun owners are lawful gun owners, one point is that they’re lawful until they’re not, but the other piece is that every gun starts out as a legal gun,” said executive director Colleen Daley.
The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a national public interest law firm that publishes information on gun laws, gave Illinois a B+ on its 2015 gun law scorecard. But Illinois’ neighbors fared poorly: Missouri and Kentucky both received Fs. With a C-, Iowa is our best-graded neighboring state.
“Illinois actually has some decent gun laws,” Daley said. “… But what we ultimately find is that loose gun laws in states surrounding us are leading to high crime rates and the illegal trafficking of firearms onto the streets in cities like the city of Chicago, where we’ve seen, unfortunately, a really high number of gun deaths this year: over 2,300 have been shot in the city of Chicago this year.”
Although it’s often mislabeled as an anti-gun group, ICHV calls itself a gun violence prevention organization that does not oppose the Second Amendment.
“We respect the law,” Daley said. “Right after the concealed carry law became law in Illinois, we spent a year traveling around the state, doing concealed carry education forums so that people understood what was happening —businesses, individuals, because no one knew. This is new to us.”
The Illinois concealed carry law prohibits license holders from carrying weapons in 23 places, such as public transit and public festivals; consequently, it’s considered one of the strictest concealed carry laws in the country. Pro-gun groups have lobbied relentlessly to loosen those restrictions, and ICHV has pushed back.
When the concealed carry law was making its way through the legislative process in 2013, pro-gun groups argued that the measure would significantly decrease crime. So far, that hasn’t been the case, Daley said.
“We’ve seen an increase in crime. And that’s not just in Illinois, that’s across our country right now, and now we have 50 states where people can legally carry firearms,” she said.
But it’s hard to tell whether the spike in crime is directly tied to concealed carry law, since pro-gun groups have squashed efforts to conduct thorough research on gun violence, Daley said.
ICHV is hoping to get a measure through the legislature that would require firearm dealers to be licensed in Illinois. According to a 2016 poll, 85 percent of Illinois voters support the proposed change to the law.
“It comes down to educating people,” Daley said. “The other side has this one message, which is not true, that they’re trying to take your guns away. There is not a measure that we have ever supported or proposed that would take a law-abiding gun owner’s gun away from them. It’s just this misinformation that people have. … Most people support the idea of keeping people safe.”
On Twitter: @janis_eschSI