Gov. Pat Quinn on Tuesday made sweeping changes to a bill that would allow concealed guns to be carried in public, writing in tougher regulations he deemed "common sense" amid staunch criticism from lawmakers who say they are poised to overturn his efforts when they return to Springfield next week.
Flanked by gun control advocates during a veto ceremony, Quinn argued the legislation lawmakers sent him would harm public safety by letting people carry as many guns as they wanted in places they shouldn't be allowed.
"I think this is an example of a situation in Illinois where the legislature passed a bill in a hurried way at the inspiration of the National Rifle Association, contrary to the safety of the people of Illinois," Quinn said after announcing the changes. "We don't need the NRA telling us how to keep people safe in Illinois."
The move sets up a showdown in Springfield between the Democratic governor and state lawmakers who overwhelmingly backed a rare and carefully constructed compromise on the often volatile issue of gun regulations despite ideological, cultural and geographic divisions. Lawmakers were trying to beat a federal appeals court deadline to set up rules allowing people to carry concealed weapons after judges tossed out Illinois' last-in-the-nation ban in December.
It took sponsoring Rep. Brandon Phelps less than an hour to file a motion to override the governor's changes. Phelps said Quinn's actions were more about politics than policy, contending Quinn is seeking to build support among anti-gun voters in the Chicago area ahead of what could be a tough re-election bid next year.
"It's too short of a notice now to go back on this," said Phelps, a Democrat from Harrisburg in far southern Illinois. "He is nothing more than politically pandering to Chicago. He won (four) counties last time around, and one of them was Cook County and he's pandering to them."
Indeed, the news conference Quinn held in his Chicago office had all the high-energy, planned-out feeling of a campaign event. He was surrounded by people who lost loved ones to gun violence, including several children who held photos of murdered family members or signs tallying the death toll from guns since the December shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
Before the event was over, potential Democratic primary challenger Bill Daley issued a statement calling Quinn's amendatory veto a "stunt" that would not lead to tougher regulations. Daley, a former White House chief of staff whose brother and father both served as mayors of Chicago, has received the backing of wealthy gun control advocate New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Even lawmakers who agree with some of Quinn's proposed changes said they are prepared to support an override, arguing the governor should have been more involved in end-of-session negotiations. Moreover, they said it's too close to the July 9 court deadline to seriously consider Quinn's suggestions, saying the state must avoid a situation in which there would be no concealed carry laws on the books and anyone with a firearm owner's identification card could pack a gun whenever and wherever they wanted.
"This puts us in a very precarious situation where those who choose to override him so that we're compliant with the (7th) Circuit Court of Appeals reject some of the things he pointed out that are legitimate concerns," said Rep. Andre Thapedi, D-Chicago, who said he supports an override. "Had he raised some of these issues earlier, they could have been incorporated into the bill."
Quinn's office argued that the governor fought for a number of changes while the bill was being drafted, only to be hampered by negotiators friendly with gun rights advocates.
Looking ahead, lawmakers return to the Capitol on July 9 and Quinn faces a tough fight given the overwhelming support the legislation received in both chambers. To override Quinn's changes, the effort would need the support of three-fifths of lawmakers in both chambers. That's 71 members in the House and 36 in the Senate.
The measure passed with 89 votes in the House and 45 in the Senate, meaning as many as 18 House legislators and nine senators could choose to stand with Quinn and his changes to the bill still would be rejected. That's a tough feat for any governor, not to mention one that has routinely been criticized for issuing demands to lawmakers without working to first build support.
Lawmakers also could move to accept the governor's suggestions, but that seems unlikely to happen, even though it puts some legislators in the position of taking a tough vote against what gun control groups say are needed public safety changes to the bill.
"He might have had some good ideas," said Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo. "But if he doesn't engage in the process, he's not relevant."
Quinn appealed to the public for help, encouraging people to reach out to their lawmakers over the Independence Day weekend to demand they support his plan. Last fall, Quinn launched a similar effort when he asked the public to talk about public employee pension reform during Thanksgiving dinner. A pension reform bill has yet to reach the governor's desk.
"I think it is important in the coming week that people across our state have the opportunity to look carefully at what the legislature has proposed, and what I have changed in this bill to make it safer for the people," Quinn said. "We ask the people of Illinois to tell their legislators, 'please support the common sense changes that I have made in this bill.'"
Specifically, Quinn recommended that citizens be allowed to carry only one concealed weapon that can carry a maximum of 10 rounds of ammunition — a major change from the legislation which puts in place no limits on how many guns or rounds could be carried.
Quinn also wants to ban guns from all places that serve alcohol, not just businesses in which booze makes up the majority of sales, as is currently written in the bill. He also wants to clarify language to make sure guns be completely concealed instead of partially, saying a gun peeking out of a pocket or purse could incite chaos.
In addition, the governor wants to give store and business owners more authority to ban guns from being carried on their property. Under the measure passed by lawmakers, guns would be allowed on the private property unless a sign was posted prohibiting them. Quinn wants to reverse that and ban guns from being carried on the private property unless an owner posts a sign giving "express permission."