The Long, Hard Road to Freedom in Illinois

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from America’s First Freedom,

Illinois’ new “shall issue” Right-to-Carry law is the most important pro-rights reform of 2013, and it has dramatic national implications. … the Illinois victory also teaches some lessons about the long-term campaign for Second Amendment rights.

Right-to-Carry efforts in Illinois began in earnest in early 1995. At the time, Indiana was the only state bordering Illinois that had a fair system for law-abiding citizens to obtain a carry permit.

With relentless hard work, Right-to-Carry laws were enacted in Kentucky, Missouri, Iowa and Wisconsin. Missouri and Wisconsin proved the most challenging, with over a decade of exertion needed in each state. Illinois, the last holdout, was even more difficult due to a special legislative rule—any law that overrides the home rule powers of municipal governments must be passed by a three-fifths majority in each house of the Illinois legislature.

For years there has been majority support in the Illinois legislature, but obtaining simultaneous three-fifths majorities proved impossible. The eventual key to legislative victory would be a victory in court.

The decisive case had its origins on the afternoon of Sept. 28, 2009. Mary Shepard was a 69-year-old woman working as the secretary/treasurer at the First Baptist Church in Anna, Ill., near Carbondale. An 83-year-old woman was working with her in the office.

A 6-ft., 3-in. robber, weighing 245 lbs., entered the church. He had an established record of violence and crime. Shepard had Right-to-Carry permits from two states, but Illinois law forbade her from having a gun in any public place.

The robber beat the two women and left them for dead in the basement. Both women sustained severe injuries to their heads, necks and upper bodies. After several intensive surgeries, Shepard still needs physical therapy.

Shepard joined the Illinois State Rifle Association, the state affiliate of the National Rifle Association. The NRA provided the legal resources for Shepard and several other plaintiffs to file a federal civil rights lawsuit against Illinois’ unconstitutional ban on defensive carry. Thus began Shepard v. Madigan.

… on Dec. 11, 2012, when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit announced its 2-1 decision striking down the Illinois carry ban.

Judge Richard Posner wrote the majority opinion. Nobody could ever accuse Judge Posner of having a pro-gun bias. Shortly after the landmark Second Amendment case of District of Columbia v. Heller was decided in 2008, he wrote an article in The New Republic criticizing the decision.

Yet while Judge Posner was no fan of Heller, he properly performed his judicial duty to follow the Supreme Court decision. He explained that the right to bear arms “implies a right to carry a loaded gun outside the home.”

“A Chicagoan is a good deal more likely to be attacked on a sidewalk in a rough neighborhood than in his apartment on the 35th floor of the Park Tower,” Posner said.

Half a year later, the Illinois General Assembly barely beat the clock to comply with the Seventh Circuit’s decision. Importantly, support for House Bill 168 was bipartisan: In the House, Democrats voted yes by 42-28, with even 15 Chicago Democrats in favor. Republicans voted yes by 47-0. In the Senate, Democrats supported the bill 26-12, with eight of the yes votes coming from Chicago. Republicans favored it 19-0.

The reason that there are so many anti-gun voters in Cook County is because of decades of systematic destruction of the right to arms in Chicago and its surrounding suburbs. Other than D.C., the only jurisdictions that banned handguns (until the Heller and McDonald decisions banned handgun bans) were Chicago and several of its suburbs. There are no gun stores in Chicago. Until the Seventh Circuit case of Ezell v. Chicago (2011), Chicago even outlawed target ranges.

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