My father-in-law, Wilbert Knop, is a gun owner. A Southern Illinois farmer, "Grandpa Wib" owns a shotgun and two rifles that he uses rarely and stores in a safe place.
Pam Bosley lost her son to gun violence. A Chicago banker, Pam's son was killed in a drive-by shooting while helping a friend carry a drum set into a church concert. She wants her community to be a safe place.
Both Grandpa Wib and Pam must abide by the same gun laws. But they come at the issue from different perspectives.
These regional differences are on display in Springfield right now as the Illinois Legislature faces a court-ordered deadline. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit gave us until June to pass a law enabling some people to carry concealed, loaded firearms outside of their homes.
Because the state needs to get this law enacted quickly, and because opinions on firearms often differ based on where we live, I organized the Firearms Working Group for new members of the Illinois Legislature.
The members came from urban, suburban and rural parts of the state to listen and learn. We met with firearms owners, families of shooting victims, state and local law enforcement officials, advocates for the mentally ill, advocates for survivors of domestic violence, and many others.
Several working group members and I found common ground in a set of principles legislators should use to evaluate legislation.
For example, local input. Much attention is focused on whether our state will be a "shall issue" or a "may issue" state, a way of describing whether there is any discretion in the issuing of concealed carry permits. I agree with St. Clair State's Attorney Brendan Kelly who told us that the distinction is not as critical as it may seem.
A Maryland court recently upheld a law that requires applicants to demonstrate a specific need to receive a permit. The law blurs the line between permits that are automatically issued and permits issued on a discretionary basis. Illinois should also allow local sheriffs and police chiefs to provide input on applicants before the state issues a permit. The bottom line is that we need to focus less on labels and more on the content of the law.
Cost is another real consideration. The Illinois State Police administers Firearm Owner Identification cards to make sure that only those who are qualified can purchase guns in Illinois. Issuing concealed carry permits will require even more work, since permit holders will be able to take their loaded firearms beyond their homes and property. We need to make sure that those who seek a permit pay for the safety checks that protect us.
Finally, our group learned that for many residents of our state, safety and constitutionality are important, but they are not mutually exclusive ideas. From gun owners to grieving parents, Illinoisans respect our constitution and our deeply held desire for safety. They agree that we should conduct comprehensive background checks and deny permits to people with mental illness or histories of domestic abuse.
We must respect our constitutional rights to firearms in the same way we respect our constitutional right to freedom of speech. We guard our freedoms in this country, and often that means balancing competing freedoms. It's not easy, but we have a track record of making it work.
Let's use our freedom of speech to not just speak, but to listen. Let's listen to the realities of our rural relatives and grieving parents. Let's listen to Illinoisans who want a smart, safe, constitutional law for our state.