Concealed carry expansion remains priority for gun group

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Firearm proponents are hopeful that Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner will support expanding the state’s 1-year-old concealed carry law to allow handguns in such places as hospitals, churches and bars.

Gun owners from across the state flooded the Illinois Capitol on Wednesday for an annual rally, and many spoke with lawmakers from their home districts about legislation to broaden gun rights.

“Great changes like we’re trying to make aren’t done in a day,” said Tom Shafer, vice president of the Sangamon County Rifle Association. “Concealed carry took us 30 years.”

In 2014, Illinois became the last state in the country to have a concealed carry law on the books. The House and Senate overrode a veto on the concealed carry legislation from former Gov. Pat Quinn, a Chicago Democrat.

But gun-control activists say firearms groups want the state laws watered down and argue that Illinois could follow other states that don’t require permits or background checks to carry handguns.

“They’re not going to stop until they have virtually everyone carrying guns virtually everywhere in the United States,” said Brian Malte, National Policy Director for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Rauner, whose focus seems to be largely on the state’s crippling budget issues, hasn’t revealed where he stands on proposed concealed carry changes or other gun legislation since taking office. He has appointed members to his prison reform commission, which is tasked with analyzing the criminal justice system. During his campaign for office, Rauner refused to take a position on a proposed assault weapons ban.

Proposed legislation in the Illinois General Assembly would allow concealed carry in places prohibited under current law, such as bus stations, churches and bars.

In the Senate, Democrat Gary Forby from Benton is behind a handful of bills that expand concealed carry to hospitals, amusement parks and zoos. Sen. Kyle McCarter, a Republican from Lebanon, is sponsoring legislation to allow concealed handguns on buses, in Cook County forests and at any event hosted on public property.

The Republican governor declined to comment specifically on any pending legislation. Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said he “will carefully evaluate all proposals that provide a sensible approach to public safety,” which is the reason he formed the commission.

The state’s top gun rights advocacy group is expected to meet with Rauner this month, a meeting that previous Democratic governors only promised to have. The organization’s executive director said that’s a positive sign this administration will be more favorable to their cause than the last.

“It’s hard to deal with people who just shut you out,” said Richard Pearson, head of the Illinois State Rifle Association.

NICK SWEDBERG, Associated Press

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