Pull out the popcorn for the comments section. But have a bucket nearby to vomit into.
Talk about the Wild West.
Imagine officials of more than 200 local home-rule units of government in Illinois — trustees, aldermen, councilors, commissioners, most of them part-timers — suddenly and urgently attempting to craft and pass a new ordinance to allow their constituents to carry concealed weapons in public.
Who is entitled to a permit? What training will it take to get a permit and who will provide and authorize it? Will permit-holders be able to carry their weapons on buses and trains? In taverns? In parks? In hospitals?
And so on. More than 200 political brush fires on one of our most divisive, contentious public policy issues breaking out all over the state nearly all at once. To be followed, inevitably, by nearly as many lawsuits filed by those who feel that the new laws continue to violate the Second Amendment's guarantee of the right to keep and bear arms.
Is that what we want? Because that's what many observers think we're going to get if the bickering Illinois General Assembly fails to agree on a concealed carry law by the June 9 deadline imposed late last year by a federal court.
A quick review: On Dec. 11, a 2-1 majority of the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals examined the implications of two recent U.S. Supreme Court gun-control decisions and ruled that "the constitutional right of armed self-defense is broader than the right to have a gun in one's home. ... To confine the right to be armed to the home is to divorce the Second Amendment from the right of self-defense described (in 2008 and 2010 by the Supreme Court).
The court stayed its order tossing out our state's prohibition on concealed carry and gave lawmakers 180 days "to craft a new gun law that will impose reasonable limitations, consistent with the public safety and the Second Amendment."
How hard could this be, given that the other 49 states have already shown the way? You'd be surprised. Gun control perhaps more than any other issue exposes the divides in Illinois politics — upstate/downstate; urban/rural/suburban; Democratic and Republican.
The debate has been lurching along, with competing proposals emerging that are best described as more permissive — the House version — and more restrictive the Senate version. A Senate committee rejected the House version Tuesday and few observers think the Senate version has a prayer of passing in the House.
An emerging school of thought has it that a stalemate will benefit those who favor the Senate proposal, which would allow for different rules in different parts of the state.
As Senate President John Cullerton put it recently, "If we don't pass a bill in Springfield, (then) the city of Chicago, county of Cook, 208 home-rule units can pass their own legislation. So, while we should pass a sensible bill ... if we don't it's not the end of the world."
A spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan said researchers in his chamber determined that about half of our home-rule communities already have their own unlawful-use-of-weapons laws on the books, many of which simply reiterate the existing state ban on concealed carry.
Since the federal court ruling dealt only with the state law, those nearly identical local laws would remain in force after June 9, according to an analysis by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office. If no state law is passed by June 9, the question will automatically revert on June 10 to the district courts, which will be tasked with crafting injunctions that incorporate the federal court's ruling.
Gun-control advocates should not be optimistic, as the Wild West shootouts in municipal halls and county buildings up and down the state will not go well in most cases. The federal court ruling is strongly worded, and the scores of local political fights over concealed carry will be skewed by the notable and persistent enthusiasm gap that has long advantaged those who favor the expansion of gun rights.
The strictest of any new patchwork gun laws aren't likely to survive court scrutiny, and the loosest ones seem destined to take hold.
If the Illinois Senate can get a few modifications on the House bill — getting rid of the sweeping pre-emption on all local firearms ordinances, for instance — it should take the deal before it gets outta Dodge at the end of the week.
An unsatisfying bill will be better than no bill at all.
LINKS and NOTES
How many home-rule units are there in Illinois? House Speaker Michael Madigan has referred to 220, Senate President Cullerton says 208 (see the quote above). The Illinois Municipal League told me 209 and the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois puts the number at 206
Refresher: Highlights of the federal court's concealed-carry decision
Latest news: Compromise may be close on concealed carry bill
Senate Republican leader Christine Radogno of Lemont said she sensed the sides were getting "closer." She cast a "present" vote on the bill Cullerton favored to encourage negotiations.
The National Rifle Association registered as "neutral" on the less restrictive Madigan-backed bill but opposed the more restrictive version sponsored by Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago.
Raoul included a provision that would not allow concealed weapons in any bar, restaurant or establishment where alcoholic beverages are consumed. The House bill allowed concealed carry in some such places, depending on the amount of booze sold.