A new front is opening in the ongoing struggle over the second amendment in Illinois and a proposal to allow concealed carrying of weapons. WGLT's Charlie Schlenker has more on what why nothing may happen in McLean County when some people break Illinois law.
McLean County State's Attorney Ron Dozier has put out a four page press release saying he won't prosecute a lot of the allegations of unlawful use of a weapon any more. Illinois is the only remaining state without a concealed carry provision... Dozier says perhaps his bold step can help achieve it.
"Like a lot of other people who believe in the second amendment, I'm frustrated that it's taking so long. I'd like to see us get concealed carry while I am still healthy and young enough to pick up a gun."
Dozier has only a few months left in office, so he acknowledges that perhaps, it's not all that bold. But he does want to highlight the deadlock, especially for Chicago area lawmakers who typically favor gun control.
"The purpose of this is not to make McLean County some sort of enclave where the unlawful use of weapons laws are not being enforced. The purpose is to try to make a change in the legislative halls."
"So basically, he's playing God with our gun laws."
Colleen Daley is the Executive Director of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence.
"And then the State's Attorney just says no, I don't have to prosecute you 'cause I don't want to? Is that how our legal system is set up, is that how our courts are set up?"
Dozier says gun control advocates are ignoring the U-S Supreme Court which has held that ordinary citizens can keep and bear arms. Daley says the cases on point indicate keeping a gun at home is ok, but there's no decision on walking around with a loaded gun. Dozier says he wonders how the other side can say with a straight face that the authors of the constitution intended citizens to use guns only inside their homes.
"Technically every time we charge someone for one of these piddly little gun things where there was no intent whatsoever, we're violating the constitution."
Dozier says he will use six different criteria in deciding whether to file charges, but the important word in the statute for him is unlawful USE of weapons...as in was it reckless or improper. The evaluation will also include gang affiliation, previous felony convictions, intent in using the firearm, and whether alcohol or drugs are involved. Dozier says he also won't enforce some provisions of the Firearm Owner Identification Card Act. Colleen Daley of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence says that potentially opens up 120,000 mentally ill residents of the state who can't get FOID cards, to carrying guns.
"There's tragedy after tragedy after tragedy happening. Not only in the city of Chicago, across the state of Illinois, and obviously across our country right now."
Another filter Dozier says he'll use in deciding charges is whether the person with the gun has a concealed carry permit in another state.
Daley is not fond of that provision either.
"Oh so now he's also accepting laws that don't exist federally either"
Daley says Illinois is also not one of the states that has a reciprocity law accepting other state's permits and there is no federal provision of that. She also wonders whether someone accused of misdemeanor domestic battery would fit Dozier's criteria for prosecution. People accused of domestic battery are supposed to be federally prohibited purchasers of firearms.
"If I'm a resident of McLean County, I don't feel very safe."
Dozier says the sky has not fallen from his change in policy on the unlawful use of weapons policy. He says no one even noticed he chose NOT to prosecute about half a dozen cases in the last five months. Dozier points out he could have kept on that quiet course, but feels a public stand is warranted. The man who will replace Dozier this fall is not so certain it's a good approach.
"People need to know what the law is."
Republican Jason Chambers is unopposed for McLean County State's Attorney. Chambers says he believes Illinois should have a concealed carry law. But it doesn't.
"I think it's reckless when you say I'm not prosecuting a certain type of case, when the legislature, the state of Illinois, our courts have all said this law is constitutional. It's not something where they've never reviewed it."
Chambers says the vagueness works against the effectiveness of law enforcement...especially when a proscutor occasionally DOES file charges.
"People automatically start to think is there a reason why this one is different? And maybe there isn't an inappropriate reason, maybe there isn't a discriminatory reason, but on the outward look of it someone thinks there is when you start doing things in that manner."
The three largest police agencies in the County, say they are paying no official heed to Dozier's initiative, though they are circumspect in language concerning the policy. Sheriff Mike Emery says people will still be arrested for gun violations.
"I too have those same beliefs, however until the governor signs legislation authorizing carrying concealed weapons in Illinois, we have to maintain the direction we are going in.
Dozier says in some cases law enforcement agencies now consult prosecutors before an arrest and an arrest won't happen, in others his office will make a determination later. He says that won't change and in ideal circumstances, responsible citizens will carry and no one will ever know.
"There's a gun that will never come out unless there's a life threatening situation and then it'll be completely justified and people will be glad somebody was carrying."
Bloomington Police Chief Randy McKinley says if Dozier's office chooses not to file formal charges his department will review those incidents on a case by case basis and communicate with the State's Attorney about them. Sheriff Emery warns of consequences for those who become enthusiastic about the change, start packing heat, and then get arrested for not transporting weapons unloaded in a case as the current law requires.
"And they will have that arrest record with them for many years. Even though they were not actually charged and convicted, it will show they have been arrested."
Emery says that criminal history will pop up in searches of law enforcement databases, including the FBI. This could be significant for job seekers.
Dozier has on occasion in his long and largely distinguished legal career been willing to get creative and step out front on issues. Earlier this year he also announced he would not enforce the state eavesdropping statute when it came to recording public officials in a public place, citizen phone video of police for instance. He says he thinks and some case law suggests that law is also unconstitutional and needs updating. And years ago, as a judge, Dozier sentenced a woman to the Norplant contraceptive after she kept having children, and neglecting them until the state would take them away from her. That sentence was overturned by higher courts. Perhaps itís a measure of how tight the gun control debate is that Dozierís latest initiative is drawing faster and stronger reaction than the prior two.
Presumptive State's Attorney Jason Chambers says he will not retain Dozier's policy when he takes over. Dozier says though, he's already getting positive feedback from people who believe as he does. He says one other State's Attorney may go public too and a number who face contested elections tell him they have quietly implemented the same rules without announcing them.
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