Illinois lawmakers overrode Gov. Pat Quinn's veto of concealed carry legislation on Tuesday, but it will likely be 2014 before any firearm owners are permitted to pack handguns in public.
The last state to adopt a concealed carry law, Illinois now has to set about building a bureaucracy to process applications — which could number in the hundreds of thousands in the first year — screening out people with prohibitive criminal records or conditions of mental illness that police believe could make them dangerous if armed.
While gun owners may have questions about how soon they'll be able to carry guns in public, other state residents may also have questions about where they can expect to find people armed with deadly weapons. And where guns will still be banned.
Schools, parks, government facilities, buses and commuter trains, bars or restaurants where more than half the business is alcohol sales, and several other public places will continue to be banned areas, according to the law. But at many privately owned places, such as grocery stores and shopping malls, the decision will be up to business operators and property owners.
Passage of the law Tuesday started the clock ticking on answering a number of tricky questions about how it will be administered.
For instance, the legislation defined "concealed" as a carrying a firearm in a manner that is "concealed or mostly concealed from public view." What exactly "mostly" means remains unclear to some in law enforcement, state police spokeswoman Monique Bond said.
The definition was one of the issues that Quinn wanted to clarify in his revisions to the legislation, which lawmakers rejected. But both sides on the gun debate agreed lawmakers may need to tweak the law with amendments even as authorities are working on rolling out the regulations.
Illinois State Police officials have 180 days — roughly six months — to create an application process. Once they begin accepting applications, Bond said it will take them about 90 days to process and screen the first round of applications and begin issuing permits. Until then, the ban on concealed carry will remain officially in effect.
But how that will play out across the state could vary, say some backers of the law.
Rep. Brandon Phelps, a Democrat from downstate Harrisburg who sponsored the bill, said some residents are already carrying guns in public in counties where they believe they won't be prosecuted for doing so as long as they have a valid firearm owners identification, or FOID, card.
"I had phone calls already saying, 'Guess what? I'm carrying,' " Phelps said Tuesday after the legislature voted. "I said, 'Well, that's illegal.' ... But they're doing it."
Based on the flow of FOID card applications, state police officials anticipate that as many as 300,000 state residents will apply for permits in the first year, Bond said. To handle the requests state police will create a new Concealed Carry Unit that will cost about $25million to launch and operate, she said. If the state's projected numbers hold up, 300,000 applications would create about $45 million in revenue from the $150 permit fee.
The laundry list of tasks for the state police and the governor's office include creating the application system, identifying and authorizing firearms trainers and firing ranges to carry out 16-hour training courses mandated by the law, and probably modifying the Law Enforcement Agencies Data Systems computer database to accommodate the background checks, Bond said.
The governor also will have to appoint a seven-member Concealed Carry Licensing Review Board to handle objections to permits lodged by law enforcement and mental health officials. The law requires the board to be made up of mostly people with experience as federal law enforcement or court officers.
State police will have to run background checks, including fingerprint searches, on all applicants, Bond said. One of the most complicated tasks will be searching for evidence of mental illness, she said. County and state mental health agencies, as well as courts, will report mental health issues to the state, she said.
Under the new law, police and prosecutors can object to a permit on several grounds if they believe a person is a danger to themselves or others. In addition to mental health issues, objections can be filed if a person has been arrested five or more times in the previous seven years, or three or more times on gang-related charges.
Applicants can be rejected for two or more convictions related to driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs or if they underwent residential or court-ordered treatment for substance abuse in the last five years.
Reaction from law enforcement has been mixed.
Several Chicago police officers who work in high-crime neighborhoods said they support the law, in part because law-abiding citizens who live in dangerous neighborhoods may have a better chance to defend themselves. The officers, who spoke on the condition that they not be identified, agreed that there would be a learning curve for police officers encountering people permitted to be armed.
"I think it'll be a little bit of a rough start in the beginning," said one officer who works in a South Side district. "I'm happy for the average citizen who is not up to no good."