By Anna Lothson
Oak Park Police Chief Rick Tanksley said he believes "Illinois held out as long as it could" as the last state in the country to prohibit concealed carry of handguns.
That doesn't mean, however, that the police veteran isn't without worry about the new legislation that could soon be hitting the books if passed into law in Springfield.
"I just think it's an issue of public concern," Tanksley said in an interview Tuesday. "Especially for law enforcement officers trying to carry out their duties. …It's something we'll have to deal with."
Although Gov. Pat Quinn spoke in strong opposition to the concealed-gun bill last week, the Illinois House passed the bill with an 85-30 vote. It was being discussed in executive session Tuesday mid-day, with an alternative proposal also on the docket. The law as presented would allow for the carrying of concealed weapons and would overturn Cook County's assault weapon ban. It also trumps the decisions of home rule communities, which Oak Park falls under, and limits what they can prohibit in terms of local gun safety regulation.
Locally, Tanksley said it's important to review what public places people with permits would be able to carry guns, which could include restaurants, stores and possibly municipal buildings. Current negotiations include prohibitions on carrying guns in a number of places, including schools, childcare facilities, playgrounds, public parks, airports, libraries, hospitals, bars and public transit. The public transportation element, however, has been a talking point.
The legislation currently being debated in Springfield was prompted by a federal appeals court order that gives lawmakers until June 9 to devise regulations about where firearms could be carried in public. Until that decision is made or the law is enacted, Oak Park leaders will have to wait. Still, discussions among Tanksley and the village manager and village attorney are expected to occur this week.
"The village's handgun ordinance remains under review, as it has since the U.S. Supreme Court ruling," Tanksley wrote in an email. Last week's vote is a factor as Oak Park would have to sync local and state law, but it's unsure what revisions would need to be made yet.
"Such an important public health and safety issue necessarily will entail a board level policy discussion. It is my hope that there also will be a community discussion. We also will be monitoring how other local governments, including Chicago, address the issue of handguns," Tanksley wrote.
He said the handgun issue remains a top priority in Oak Park and will be a topic of conversations before any local ordinance is re-written.
"We have to make sure that whatever action is taken, it addresses the community's concerns in a way that not only will be effective but also will stand up to a court challenge," he said.
Oak Park's history on handgun regulation dates back to 1985 when village voters approved a law banning handguns. The ban was overturned in 2010 when the U.S. Supreme Court called the action unconstitutional. The case resulted in the National Rifle Association, being granted more than $1.7 million in legal fees from Oak Park and the City of Chicago. This fee was eventually paid entirely by Chicago due to an agreement between the municipalities.
Locally the concealed carry law could mean additional training for officers to remind them of the change. Tanksley said officers are always taught to be prepared for potential threats, but this law would call for additional awareness on the officers' part.
"It may just mean additional reminders just to make sure [their] antennas are always up. They have to be aware that anyone can now be in possession of a handgun."
As police chief, Tanksley said his job is to simply carry out whatever law is enacted, so he's not taking a stance one way or another on the concealed carry bill. But he still has concerns, he said.
Sen. Don Harmon (D.-Oak Park) and Quinn, however, have voiced strong opposition against the recently passed house bill.
"I am very troubled by the bill that came out of the house last week. It's an unnecessary overreach of local control," Harmon said in a phone interview between Senate discussions. That current bill, along with a proposed compromise were being discussed mid-day Tuesday in executive committee, Harmon said.
Harmon said the proposed compromise comes with a more "sensible" approach to the concealed carry debate. The proposal gives local law enforcement more time to object to a concealed carry permit and provides further restrictions on where people can carry guns, such as establishments that serve alcohol.
"It is certainly less demanding than I would have preferred at the onset of the debate, but it strikes me as more fair than the court decisions," Harmon said. He supported the idea of banning guns in places that serve alcohol, especially in his hometown of Oak Park where many restaurants would fall into that category.
"I don't think I would want to be worrying about who is carrying a weapon while I'm at dinner," he said.
Although the state was directed to enact a concealed carry permit law, Harmon said the house bill "went far beyond the directive," and stripped away power from local municipalities regarding firearms. For example, under the proposed law, Oak Park cannot prohibit assault weapons and could not prevent gun shops.
Quinn agreed the bill was a "massive overreach" and made his point clear in a statement last week when he vowed to help stop its passage as currently written. His office filed an official opposition last week.
"The legislation is wrong for Illinois. It was wrong [Thursday] in committee, it's wrong today, and it's wrong for the future of public safety in our state." he wrote. "The principle of home rule is an important one. As written, this legislation is a massive overreach that would repeal critical gun safety ordinances in Chicago, Cook County, and across Illinois. We need strong gun safety laws that protect the people of our state. Instead, this measure puts public safety at risk. I will not support this bill and I will work with members of the Illinois Senate to stop it in its tracks."
Check out OakPark.com this week as updates of the legislation become available.