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By Devin Rose
Tempers flared Wednesday night as an audience of about 40 opponents and supporters of carrying concealed handguns squared off at a town hall meeting at Oak Park Village Hall, hosted by state Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-8th).
Ford said he was continuing to gather information after he declined to pick a side in May and voted "present" on a bill that would allow the issuance of permits to carry concealed firearms to people who are at least 21.
Ford recently proposed a house resolution that would create a Firearm Public Awareness Task Force, he said. The task force would analyze data about the types and number of crimes in places where conceal and carry is legal.
Some supporters of conceal and carry said guns were the best form of self-defense.
"Don't I get to defend myself in the most effective manner?" shouted Keith Turner, a Waukegan resident who is part of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Turner said because he wants to be able to carry a concealed gun, "I instantly become a criminal."
Opponents voiced retorts from the audience, asking what happened to Turner to make him want so strongly to carry a gun.
Gerald Vernon, who is part of the Chicago Firearms Safety Association, said the courts have consistently ruled that police are not responsible for individual security. In that case, Vernon said, the state shouldn't deny the option for people to be responsible for themselves.
But Mark Walsh, the campaign director with the Illinois Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, countered that someone intending to do harm with a gun will get it out before the other person can defend himself. He referred to a permit owner in Arizona who stood next to Jared Loughner in Tucson earlier this year and couldn't get his gun out in time.
Walsh read off a list of places — including train stations, airports, grocery stores hospitals and more — where guns would be allowed to be concealed.
"In our opinion, there's no need to have more guns in public places," he said.
Other supporters spoke about protecting their families.
Dr. Paula Bratich said guns are just tools that "increase your chances of coming home to your family," and owners should be trained.
Hector Rodriguez, who lives in Austin with his wife and three kids, said he doesn't hide his gun and prefers his kids to be educated about it.
He said his wife often drives home with their 8-year-old daughter late at night, and if someone snuck into their garage and his wife had a gun, she would at least have the option of trying to arm herself.
Todd Vandermyde, a lobbyist with the National Rifle Association, argued that someone carrying a concealed gun is the same person without one.
"Do you trust your doctor?" he asked a man in the audience who said he was still making up his mind about the issue. If a doctor carried a gun because he had to work in a rough neighborhood, Vandermyde said, the doctor is the same person that patients know and won't become a raging lunatic just because he carries one.
"There are people who need guns to be safe," said Morris Seeskin, another attendee. While he said he wanted to feel safe, not knowing everyone he or his family encountered would make him feel uncomfortable. He didn't want to have to fear for his grandchild, who might go down the street to visit a friend whose father has a gun and "goes off the handle."
Ford, who spent time talking with a long line of attendees after the meeting, said he may hold a similar forum in the western suburbs soon.