Illinois is the only state that doesn't allow residents to carry concealed weapons — and a group of religious leaders, anti-gun activists and lawmakers hope to keep it that way.
The newly formed "Stop Concealed Carry Coalition" announced today at the Chicago Temple its commitment to fight any bill that would legalize concealed carry in the state.
"I can't fathom the idea of going to the mall and just thinking that under that coat over there, or in that purse, there might be a weapon," said Ald. Ricardo Munoz of the 22nd Ward. "We cannot allow concealed carry to be the law of the land."
Coalition members cited pressure from the National Rifle Association and gun-rights activists across Illinois for their growing concern. They worry state lawmakers could attempt to push through a law during the legislative veto session that starts this week.
With 36 lame duck legislators, the General Assembly is ripe for last-minute deals between outgoing lawmakers and those willing to trade votes to ensure majorities on other issues, said Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin.
"While we don't expect that the concealed carry bill will come up, it may because there will be a lot of horse trading going on in the final days of this old General Assembly," he said. "We need to remind those who have stood with us that they need to stay fast with us and make sure that we oppose concealed carry."
The coalition has collected more than 6,700 signatures in an online petition it created Nov. 19. The petition calls on Gov. Pat Quinn and the General Assembly to stop the passage of any concealed carry bills proposed during the veto session.
Rev. Michael Pfleger, pastor at St. Sabina Catholic Church on Chicago's South Side, said Americans needed to address their "love affair with guns."
"Thank God Illinois can be an example and not be pressured into following the rest of the country," he said.
While the coalition hopes to maintain the status quo, grassroots movements in support of concealed carry have sprung up in rural towns across Illinois.
Measures supporting concealed carry passed overwhelmingly in 10 counties in the Nov. 6 election. Though the votes are non-binding because local law can't override state law, advocates said they sent a message to state lawmakers.
"Whenever the citizenry is armed, criminals know that you have a chance to protect yourself and to protect your family," said Charles Butler, a conservative radio talk show host based in Chicago. "The bottom line is law-abiding citizens need the ability to protect themselves."