Is it legal to carry guns in public in Illinois? Depends on whom you ask.
Illinois is the only state in the country that has maintained a ban on concealed-carry, but across the river from St. Louis, the top prosecutor in Madison County now says that -- effective immediately -- citizens can carry concealed firearms. The Illinois State Police, however, says it will continue to enforce current laws prohibiting carrying guns and that individuals with loaded firearms are still subject to arrest.
"It serves no just purpose to continue to deny responsible, law-abiding citizens their Constitutional right to bear arms," Madison County State's Attorney Tom Gibbons says in a statement.
Why is there a discrepancy here -- and could citizens who carry firearms in Madison County actually face punishment?
See also: - Concealed Carry Suit Says Missouri Is Violating Privacy Rights of Gun Owners - Missouri's Approved Gun Bills: Concealed-Carry Permits Easier to Get - GOP Wants Missouri to Destroy Personal Documents Tied to Concealed Carry
At this point, it appears that Illinois is in a confusing state of limbo with law-enforcement agencies releasing contradictory statements.
The backdrop to this latest dispute is the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling last year, declaring the ban on concealed-carry in Illinois unconstitutional. That opened the door for lawmakers in the state to formally pass a measure allowing concealed-carry -- which the state legislature approved this month.
Illinois governor Pat Quinn, however, has yet to sign the measure into law, but has to make a decision within the next month. (He has yet to indicate whether he might veto the legislation.)
Gibbons, the top prosecutor in Madison County -- which includes metro east cities including Alton, Godfrey and Edwardsville -- says there is no point in waiting any longer.
In what appears to be a pretty bold move, Gibbons says that residents can immediately start carrying firearms within certain parameters and issued a strongly worded statement last week citing constitutional rights:
Continuing to criminally charge citizens for conduct that is constitutionally protected and for which charges would, ultimately, be dismissed, would be unconscionable and a terrible waste of judicial resources. Therefore, we will no longer deny responsible citizens this important right.
That means, according to Gibbons, citizens can have concealed, loaded firearms on their person or in their vehicle, if they have a proper "firearm owner identification card" and if they follow other required guidelines (full list below).
Soon after Gibbons made his announcement, however, the Illinois State Police, which has jurisdiction throughout the state, released a joint statement -- with the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and the Illinois Sheriffs' Association -- with the virtually opposite message. It says the agency "will continue to enforce Illinois' current unlawful use of a weapon statute in all jurisdictions."
That statement says in no uncertain terms:
Current Illinois law prohibits the carrying of an immediately accessible or loaded firearm on your person or in your vehicle regardless of whether it is concealed. Persons in violation are subject to arrest.
In other words, it would appear at this point in time, Illinois State Police officers could arrest someone carrying a gun -- but if that person is in Madison County, he or she may not face prosecution.
This, as you could imagine, could be quite confusing for some local police departments -- as well as residents of Madison County.
Continue for response from one police department and the full announcements from Gibbons and ISP.