SPRINGFIELD, Ill. • A measure letting Illinois residents carry concealed guns in public fell short Thursday in the Illinois House after weeks of rising optimism among supporters.
It would have allowed people to carry guns if they were properly registered and had completed eight hours of training, including target practice. Applicants would have needed to pass a background check and a review of their mental health history.
The vote was 65-32, giving the measure a solid majority. But it needed 71 votes to pass, a standard requirement for legislation that restricts local communities' regulatory power.
Conservative Democrats have watched as the Legislature approved several liberal measures, including legalizing civil unions and abolishing the death penalty. They had hoped legislative leaders would help legalize concealed carry as a way of shoring up Democrats outside the Chicago area.
"Downstate needs something to hang their hat on," Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, said earlier this week. "We haven't got anything. This is one thing we ask."
Then Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn weighed in with a threat to veto the measure if it reached his desk, changing the legislative landscape.
Phelps said he called the bill for a vote Thursday despite thinking it would probably fail. He could call another vote, but Phelps said he felt Thursday offered the best chance to pass it before the Legislature adjourns May 31.
He and other supporters noted that Illinois and Wisconsin are the only states that completely ban concealed carry, yet other states haven't turned into "the wild west." They argued Illinois residents should have the option of carrying weapons to protect themselves.
"Criminals are cowards," said Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro. "They will stay away from places where they believe people can have not even an upper hand, but an even hand."
Critics say those who obtained concealed carry permits in other states have later been convicted of violent crimes. They argue putting more guns on the street will increase crime rather than safety.
"This bill will make the work of our police officers much harder," said Rep. Edward Acevedo, D-Chicago. "Fewer guns means less violence, less injury and less death. It's as simple as that."
Illinois state police predict about 100,000 people would apply for concealed carry permits this year, with 325,000 more signing up later, if the law were changed. The department estimates it would generate $40 million in revenue by 2014.
Quinn reiterated his veto threat Thursday after speaking at a memorial for slain police officers.
"I happen to believe that that particular bill will not in any way protect public safety," Quinn said. "It will do the opposite."
Advocates of the gun legislation warned that Quinn could face consequences for his veto threat, which they said came without warning.
Quinn is looking for legislative support for his budget proposals, including a plan to borrow billions of dollars to pay overdue bills. He also wants to use different revenue estimates than House and Senate leaders, which affects how deeply spending would have to be cut.
"He's going to need our votes," Phelps said.
Mark Walsh, campaign director for Illinois Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said he is "very confident" concealed carry will not become law with Quinn's commitment to veto the legislation.
The bill prevents people with documented mental illness or instability from procuring a permit, but Walsh questioned the efficiency of that screening.
Both sides of the issue try to bolster their argument by noting the January shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Arizona, by a mentally disturbed gunman.
"I think that exacerbates people's feelings," said Todd Vandermyde, a lobbyist with National Rifle Association. "They feel that cops can't protect them. People are more and more responsible for their own safety when they're out in public."
Walsh called it misguided to think that more gun-carrying civilians could have stopped the Giffords shooting.
"Just because you have a gun doesn't make you any more safe," Walsh said. "A lot of time it makes you less safe. ... It begs people to shoot first and ask questions later."
The bill is HB148.