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Illinois Concealed Carry: Prosecutors Give OK While Governor Delays

Months after federal courts declared Illinois' long-standing concealed carry ban unconstitutional, residents in the Land of Lincoln are still waiting for the OK from the statehouse.

After being given a June 9 deadline, Gov. Pat Quinn and Attorney General Lisa Madigan were able to extend the deadline by a month so Quinn could carefully review the legislation passed in May by the General Assembly. While Quinn and Madigan waste time delaying the inevitable, some Illinois prosecutors have decided enough is enough and are moving forward with concealed carry with or without Quinn's signature.

According to The (Peoria, Ill.) Journal Star, state's attorneys in neighboring Tazewell and Peoria counties have state they will not prosecute any lawful gun owner for carrying a concealed firearm, granting constitutional carry to their residents.

On Friday, Tazewell County State's Attorney Stewart Umholtz issued a statement saying the December court decision gave Illinois gun owners the right to carry.

"A citizen who wishes to exercise their Second Amendment right to carry a firearm outside of the home for self-defense should not be placed in the situation where they fear prosecution if they exercise a constitutional right," Umholtz said.

About three hours later, Umholtz's colleague across the Illinois River, Peoria County State's Attorney Jerry Brady issued a similar statement.

"Since the court's ruling, Peoria County has been following the court's opinion and not charging persons with valid FOID cards entitled to possess a firearm," he said. "Our office seeks to follow the court's opinion and honor a person's constitutional rights outlined by the recent decision."

In addition, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported state's attorneys in Madison and Randolph counties both took similar stances earlier this month, and the sheriff in Clinton County said anyone from a county that allows concealed firearms would not be arrested for carrying in his jurisdiction.

This isn't the first time Illinois prosecutors have stood up for the Second Amendment. In August 2012, McLean County State's Attorney Ron Dozier issued a statement saying his office would not prosecute lawful gun owners for simply carrying a concealed firearm.

And the trend of downstate counties sticking it to Chicago politicians goes back even further. In March 2012, voters in Pike County, Ill., approved a concealed-carry ordinance that allowed county residents to carry a concealed firearm, marking the first time since 1862 a county had passed a law contradictory to the state. The last time it happened, five Virginia counties voted against secession from the Union, resulting in the formation of West Virginia.

Still, the move isn't without detractors. According to The Associated Press, other prosecutors around Illinois said while the ban is still in place, they will enforce it — regardless of whether it's constitutional.

"... My approach right now is: The law is that you can't carry guns," said Bob Berlin, state's attorney in DuPage County near Chicago. "Until we have a new law, it's not for me to decide what the law is."

Charles Garnati, the state's attorney in downstate Williamson County, agreed with Berlin.

"We are a nation of laws, and we should follow the law and not pick and choose which ones we're going to follow," Garnati said. "I commend the Legislature for passing the conceal law and sending it to Gov. Quinn. But until he signs it, it's not the law in Illinois. That's the bottom line."

State law enforcement also opposed the rogue prosecutors. A joint "public safety advisory" by the Illinois State Police, Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and the Illinois Sheriffs' Association said they would continue to enforce Illinois' weapons ban, given gun control has worked so well across the state.

Clearly these prosecutors are putting the pressure on Quinn to approve the legislation in a timely fashion; the longer he stalls, the longer the state will be an unorganized mess of counties with varying stances on concealed carry, creating a legal conundrum for residents traveling across county lines.

We're all for concealed carry in Illinois, but it needs to cover every county, not just a few. Until that's the law, Quinn's inaction could make criminals out of ordinary citizens exercising their rights.

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