CHICAGO (AP) — In a major victory for gun rights advocates, a federal appeals court on Tuesday struck down a ban on carrying concealed weapons in Illinois — the only remaining state where carrying concealed weapons is entirely illegal — and gave lawmakers 180 days to write a law that legalizes it.
In overturning a lower court decision, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the ban was unconstitutional and suggested a law legalizing concealed carry is long overdue in a state where gun advocates had vowed to challenge the ban on every front.
"There is no suggestion that some unique characteristic of criminal activity in Illinois justifies the state's taking a different approach from the other 49 states," Judge Richard Posner, who wrote the court's majority opinion. "If the Illinois approach were demonstrably superior, one would expect at least one or two other states to have emulated it."
Gun rights advocates were thrilled by the decision. They have long argued that the prohibition violates the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment and what they see as Americans' right to carry guns for self-defense.
"Christmas came early for law-abiding gun owners," said state Rep. Brandon Phelps, a Democratic lawmaker from southern Illinois whose proposed legislation approving concealed carry narrowly lost in the Legislature last year. "It's a mandate."
Gov. Pat Quinn, who favors strict gun control laws, was reviewing the opinion and did not have immediate comment, according to a spokeswoman. Attorney General Lisa Madigan, whose office is responsible for defending the state's laws in court, will review the ruling before deciding whether to appeal or take other action, said spokeswoman Maura Possley.
"The court gave 180 days before its decision will be returned to the lower court to be implemented," Possley said in a statement. "That time period allows our office to review what legal steps can be taken and enables the legislature to consider whether it wants to take action."
Richard Pearson, the executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, said there is no reason why lawmakers cannot pass Phelps' bill during a weeklong legislative session in January.
"Now that the court has ruled ... we will work as soon as possible with legislators to craft a concealed carry bill for the state of Illinois," he said.
The court did order its ruling stayed to "allow the Illinois legislature to craft a new gun law that will impose reasonable limitations, consistent with the public safety and the Second Amendment as interpreted in this opinion, on the carrying of guns in public," Posner wrote.
Phelps suggested that the court, in its 2-1 ruling, may have encouraged lawmakers to pass a far less restrictive concealed carry law than the one he proposed last year that was rejected.