Nearly a month after the Illinois General Assembly overrode Governor Pat Quinn's veto of the state's long-awaited concealed carry law, one lawmaker is attempting to add an amendment. Illinois was the last state to enact a concealed carry law and the latest attempt to alter it is a state senator's campaign to ban concealed weapons from houses of worship.
State Sen. Dan Kotowski, a suburban Chicago Democrat and a one-time gun control lobbyist, first floated the idea of banning such weapons in July while the General Assembly was out of session.
On July 9, with a 30-day extension to enact some type of concealed carry law, Illinois ratified it by an override of Governor Quinn's veto. Present in the debate preceding the vote were arguments about the lengths to which citizens are allowed to carry concealed weapons. After much debate and several pieces of defeated legislation, a compromise bill finally emerged that left nearly everyone on both sides unhappy. In the end, concealed weapons were prohibited from buses, trains, casinos, government buildings, hospitals, and alcoholic establishments that earn less than half their income from food.
Kotowski insists that omitting a ban on concealed weapons in churches in the original law was an oversight. As it stands, churches are permitted to post signage stating that concealed weapons are prohibited from the premises.
Explaining his position, Sen Kotowski said, "There are certain places where guns should be off-limits. Churches, as sanctuaries, are among them." Going on, Kotowski continued, saying that ministers he consulted, "believe that when you go into a house of worship you're going to pray, reflect and make the most of this period of silence."
However, not all Illinois pastors are of the same mind. Charles Burton of Unity Fellowship Church in Godfrey, northeast of St. Louis, supports the amendment, saying he "refuses to be governed by fear." Yet, Pastor Cory Respondek of Living Water Church in Cahokia, also in southern Illinois, says churches should be able to decide for themselves. Also, a head of security for a church in Collinsville supports letting concealed weapons in, but would like to know who is carrying. He also added, "I don't believe your rights as an American stop when you walk through the door."
Kotowski says he spoke with Chicago-area pastors, four years after a pastor was murdered in 2009, before he introduced his proposed amendment. It was in the downstate town of Maryville where a Baptist pastor was killed during Sunday services. The shooter, who had no apparent connection to the church, was deemed clinically insane and unfit to stand trial. A potential snag in Kotowski's plan is how a ban would have prevented shootings like the one in Maryville.
The Sen Kotowski campaign to ban concealed weapons from houses of worship also introduces more issues of constitutionality to the state's concealed carry law. in this episode, Illinoisans may begin asking whether this amounts to the state government stepping into the realm of the church. Specifically, this proposed amendment deals with what worshipers may be allowed to bring into the building, a not-for-profit entity.