Editorial: Concealed Carry: Safeguards Illinois Must Adopt

Since even before the shootings in December at Newtown, Connecticut, the issue of guns and the regul
Chris Wissmann


Since even before the shootings in December at Newtown, Connecticut, the issue of guns and the regulation thereof have filled the news.

In Illinois, the national trend toward stricter gun regulation runs up against not only unreasonable, irresponsible Republicans but also identically inclined downstate Democratic lawmakers, plus a recent ruling by the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that requires the General Assembly to pass a law authorizing citizens to conceal the carrying of firearms in public.

Not everyone who supports some Second Amendment-- not to mention Fourth Amendment-- rights to firearms lacks reason. Hunters, for example, are an essential component of our ecosystem (and I can’t say how much I appreciated the roommates who hunted and helped feed me with their harvests during my younger adult life). People also have the right to defend themselves, especially in their homes.

Taking handguns and military-style firearms outside the home, however, ought to raise red flags. Indeed, Sen. Tony Munoz and Sen. Dan Kotowski have proposed bans on assault rifles capable of firing hundreds of rounds per minute from high-capacity magazines. The General Assembly ought to pass them.

Illinois’s continued concealed-carry prohibition, however, will not likely withstand scrutiny before the current U.S. Supreme Court, though this needn’t result in a reckless disregard for public safety or the profligate acquisition and bearing of guns by dangerous criminals or the mentally ill.

First off, any legislation legalizing concealed carry in the state should use start by using Illinois’s illegal transportation of alcohol laws to form the framework for a complete ban on the possession of firearms when consuming or in the presence of alcoholic liquor.

The dangers of mixing driving and alcohol are so obvious that in Illinois, drivers may not consume liquor when operating motor vehicles, even when legally sober. Moreover, they cannot even allow other passengers to consume or carry open containers of alcohol in their vehicles.

If drinking, or the mere presence of open liquor, renders the operation of a motor vehicle so dangerous, then society can reasonably see similar perils in operating or simply possessing firearms near alcohol. Thus the state must completely ban firearms from any bar, restaurant, theater, party, festival, or other venue or event where the sale or consumption of liquor takes place. Blood-alcohol content should not matter-- the ban should apply whether gun owners are stone-cold sober or passed-out drunk, and it must apply to other intoxicants as well.

Those who violate this prohibition, or who carry firearms while legally intoxicated, must face severe felony charges-- not only because liquor can cloud judgment and diminish the ability to aim weapons at real physical threats, but because places where crowds gather can form tragic environments for large-scale collateral damage and easy targets for mass murderers.

In addition, many states require background checks and training before allowing concealed carry. Unfortunately, where the first requirement is concerned, too many people, while mentally unbalanced, have remained free of the criminal-justice and mental-health systems long enough to legally obtain weapons they’ve then used to commit mass murder. And the second requirement would only help provide dangerous people with the skills they need to more competently inflict enormous atrocities upon the innocent.

The city of Carbondale, among many other municipalities, requires prospective police officers to undergo psychological evaluations before accepting them for employment, as does the Illinois State Police.

The General Assembly, then, should require all civilians who wish to carry firearms in public to first pass a psychological evaluation by a state-certified clinical psychologist-- the same tests that sworn law-enforcement personnel must pass. All concealed-carry licensees should need to pass that psych examination on an annual basis.

A provision like this, of course, probably would not have prevented the Connecticut shootings, because the assailant there reportedly stole guns from his mother, who legally obtained them. But it may well have prevented the 2008 shootings at Northern Illinois University, or the 2011 assassination attempt against U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, or the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech, or the 2011 Batman movie-theater murders, among many others, where deeply disturbed men were able to legally purchase firearm after firearm for rampages they planned for weeks and sometimes months.

This is by no means a panacea for gun violence. Bad police officers, after all, beat mental-health tests and gain employment, poor psychologists fail to recognize serious problems, and perfectly sane, moral people can give or lose their guns to violent criminals or the criminally insane. We don’t yet understand mental illness, let alone simple criminality, very well, or we would long ago have solved these problems at the root level.

But while the above proposals will not prevent every atrocity, they may at least identify a few dangerous individuals before they arm themselves and learn to kill quickly and in large quantities. At the same time, they will allow perfectly sane, sober citizens the right to keep and bear arms in accordance with their constitutional rights.