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Madigan to open concealed carry debate Tuesday

(MCT) — SPRINGFIELD — Democratic Speaker Michael Madigan plans to hold an extraordinary debate Tuesday to begin to gauge where House members think people should be allowed to carry concealed guns and where they should be forbidden in Illinois.

Among the more than 25 such questions that could come up for test votes on the House floor: Should concealed weapons be allowed in church? At day care centers? In casinos? On buses and trains? Inside sports stadiums? And what exceptions should be made?

Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said that Tuesday marks the "first of probably several sessions" on the topic. The goal is to give lawmakers the chance to "speak to and vote on" numerous gun issues, Brown said.

The motivations of the state's longest-serving speaker, however, are not always clear in a Capitol where he has largely controlled the agenda year after year. Hot-button legislation often is worked on behind closed doors among competing interest groups and heard at the committee level; then a single bill that lawmakers can take or leave is voted on. Madigan also sometimes will survey his Democratic members privately to see what they could support on issues such as tax increases.

Illinois is the only state in the nation that does not allow citizens to carry concealed weapons in some form. That, however, changed in December, when a three-member federal appeals court panel ruled Illinois should act within six months to allow citizens to carry guns in public.

The court ruling set off a scramble among gun rights advocates to press for looser restrictions and gun control backers to argue for tighter ones. Pro-gun forces are set to rally at the Capitol on March 6 for their annual lobbying day.

Rep. Brandon Phelps, who has pushed for allowing concealed carry in Illinois, has added his own question to the Tuesday mix, an amendment that would legalize the practice but require training and prohibit guns from being taken into schools, stadiums and bars.

Phelps suggested the speaker's Tuesday debate is an attempt to find out where every lawmaker stands on the various issues that have come up in hearings before the House Judiciary Committee.

"A lot of people across this state and nation will be watching," said Phelps, a Democrat from Harrisburg in far southern Illinois, of Tuesday's action.

Doing it this way will leave individual lawmakers less political cover to run away from a bill by simply arguing they didn't have a chance to add an element, such as certain restrictions for a firearms bill. The approach also puts many freshman lawmakers as well as some squeamish veterans on the spot, requiring them to take clear positions on politically difficult issues.

The gun debate in Illinois is at a fever pitch as homicides in Chicago have been on the rise. President Barack Obama, calling for an end to the violence on the streets, appeared in Chicago following the shooting death of a teenage girl who only days before took part in inaugural activities in the Washington area.

The appellate ruling started the clock ticking. On Friday, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's request for rehearing before the full U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals was rejected. Madigan, the speaker's daughter, has not decided whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and has urged the legislature to work on putting a law on the books to beat the deadline.

At the Capitol, each of the amendments potentially could be heard shortly after the House convenes at noon Tuesday, but decisions on which ones are called will be made by the various sponsors, Brown said.

The House is scheduled to hold further hearings this week on assault weapons. Among the officials who want to ban assault weapons are Gov. Pat Quinn and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

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