While Saturday's violence in Arizona spurred calls for stricter gun control nationwide, the biggest influence on the gun debate in Illinois continues to be focused on regional politics.
Namely, Chicago versus downstate and the political standoff between pro-gun and anti-gun groups over a concealed-carry law.
With the 97th General Assembly officially sworn in, new concealed-carry legislation could be introduced as early as Thursday, according to the executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association.
But will new faces change anything? Since 1995, concealed-carry proposals have been introduced but have not progressed far through the legislative process.
"Until you convince Chicago that this is something that will not cause the sky to fall, that you know of, it will be a political stalemate," state Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, and a supporter of concealed-carry, said Wednesday. "Nonetheless, a bill will be put forth this year."
State Sen. Dale Risinger, R-Peoria, said the November general elections didn't bring enough change to make a concealed-carry law likely. Illinois and Wisconsin are the only two states without any kind of concealed-carry law.
"We don't have enough votes downstate to carry that," Risinger said.
Richard Pearson, the director of the ISRA, said pro-gun groups will consolidate their efforts and push for one concealed-carry bill this session, unlike multiple concealed carry measures in previous years. He said the new legislation will be sponsored by state Rep. Brandon Phelps, a southern Illinois Democrat.
"We're going to make every effort to get a vote on concealed-carry this year," Pearson said. "Every year, we get a little closer."
The city of Peoria garnered some attention in 2009, when Mayor Jim Ardis said the city could serve as a test location for a statewide concealed-carry law. Legal concerns were among reasons the Peoria proposal was halted last year.
Pearson also doesn't believe the violence in Tuscon, Ariz., in which a shooter killed six people and injured 14 others, will affect concealed-carry legislation in Illinois.
Risinger said it might have some effect.
Koehler believes the Tucson shootings will put more of a spotlight on mental illness than gun control.
"The real issue is we have sick people out there with serious mental-health issues," he said. "We have a lot of work to do in terms of creating better services and a better safety net in mental services."
Mark Walsh, campaign director with the Illinois Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a project under the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, believes the violence in Arizona - where gun laws are considerably less restrictive than in other states - will affect discussion in Illinois.
"The one argument before Arizona was if there was concealed-carry allowed, someone would be there to stop someone (shooting) like the incident in Arizona," Walsh said. "That wasn't the case at all. It was stopped because of a gun jam. People were close by who were able to tackle him."
John Sharp can be reached at 686-3282 or email@example.com.
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