Voters approve concealed carry ordinance in Pike County, Illinois: Now What?

by Jim Shepherd

Recently, I made a big deal out of the fact that on Tuesday, March 21, 2012, Pike County, Illinois passed a voter initiative that rejected the concealed carry restrictions of state law-in Pike County. When that story ran, several readers - including a some very irritated Illinois attorneys, were quick to point out that a voter initiative had no force of law.

Until today, their point hasn't been addressed. That's because we couldn't get any insight into the whole state/local law point.

First, let's shuck this down to the cob on a key question: can I now carry a concealed firearm in Pike County, Illinois? Short answer: not without putting yourself in potential legal peril.

That's because the voter initiative hasn't moved to its logical conclusion. The folks who created the initiative have provided us with the statement they've been sending to all the other Illinois counties considering similar initiatives. Here's how they're explaining it:

"In Illinois, local governments (county governments, municipal governments) can't overturn state laws. They can pass local laws that are more restrictive than state laws (like, the death penalty for stray dogs), but they can't "erase" or "soften" restrictive laws the state legislature has already put in place (like, Illinois' concealed-carry ban).

But the citizenry, the voters, are not "local governments." They are The People, who hold ultimate sovereignty over everything. There is no true statutory or constitutional limit on the power of The People. (Maybe that makes me sound like a Right-Wing fanatic, but it happens to be true).

Which is why ever-so-often you'll see referendums, or constitutional amendments, on your local and state ballots in some elections.

In Illinois, "The People" in any jurisdiction (a municipality, a county, or even the state as a whole), can put any question, or initiative, or referendum, or ordinance they want on any ballot. All it takes is a petition signed by a number of registered voters that equals a certain percentage of the number of voters who participated in the most recent previous election in that particular jurisdiction. That required percentage is surprisingly small. All this information is available from your County Clerk.

Various Illinois pro-gun groups and organizations have previously tried to get counties in Illinois to enact local concealed-carry ordinances. Their mistake was trying to pass these ordinances through their county boards (i.e., their local "legislatures"). County board members correctly say, "We can't do that," because laws passed by the state legislature trump laws passed by local legislatures.

So here, we went directly to The People. It only took about six local folks just three weeks circulating petitions to get three times the minimum number of signatures required to put the "Constitutional Carry" ordinance on last week's Pike County primary ballot. The 3,214 "Yes" votes for the ordinance were actually more than the largest vote total for any candidate or question in the previous Pike County election. The margin of victory was 85 percent. Which has left all Pike County elected officials (including the County Sheriff), with no place to hide. Our state Representatives and Senators are also looking closely at those numbers, and pointing them out to their colleagues (not that many downstate legislators are "soft on guns" to begin with).

The first time Pike County took a stand like this, was when our County Board enacted an advisory resolution in March, 2007, stating that if the Illinois Legislature enacted any further restrictive firearms legislation, it would be deemed in Pike County "to be Unconstitutional and beyond lawful Legislative Authority."

During the following six months in 2007, 89 percent of all other Illinois counties followed Pike County's lead and passed that same resolution. Interestingly, the Illinois State Legislature has enacted no restrictive firearms laws since (even anti-gun politicians can read numbers), no matter how many anti-gun bills have been tossed into the Illinois legislative hopper.

If citizen petitions would get "Constitutional Carry" ordinances on the ballots, and passed, in the same 89 percent of Illinois Counties in the next election, the State Legislature would very likely enact such a statute before the ink were dry. It would have little choice. Legislators can't fight these kinds of numbers. No matter how loudly the Cook-and-Collar-County anti-gun contingent screamed. It would otherwise be a huge campaign issue; which nobody wants to fight.

Politics, even in Illinois, isn't rocket science. It's simple math."

Simple, huh? It may seem simplistic, but it recognizes those three words we often seem to overlook that were keystones to our nation's creation: "We the people...." Seems Pike County, Illinois is sending a message to the rest of their fellow citizens that "the people" are still in charge, although the process has been corrupted -or at least complicated-to the point that "the people" seem to have little, if any voice in the process.

Like the citizens of Pike County, I happen to disagree. The initial response to the voters brought out a clarification statement from state and county law enforcement that might caution citizens against the carrying of firearms, but strongly encourages their participation in the process. Some might say I'm adding nuance where it doesn't exist, but the joint statement issued by Pike County Sheriff Paul E. Petty and Illinois State Police Lieutenant Brad Lacey (the commander of the post covering Pike County) certainly doesn't discourage the process:

"... the placing of this topic on the ballot is only the beginning of the process to have Constitutional Carry of Arms in Illinois. We can't ignore our current State legislation that controls or prohibits carrying concealed weapons. As to this question, Illinois law states as follows: 'Local questions of public policy... shall be advisory public policy questions, and no legal effects shall result from the adoption or rejection of such proposition.' Thus, although there is overwhelming support for some form of Open/and-or Conceal-Carry in Pike County, there will be no change in the status quo until our legislators take this message to Springfield.

Though Counties can establish more restrictive laws; the Counties shall not create laws which contradict or supercede current State laws. However, at the present time with the State of Illinois still not supporting an Open and/or Conceal-Carry Law, a person is subject to being arrested for a felony offense if this person is in violation ofIllinois Law regardless of any initiative passed in this County.

Perhaps one of the largest steps toward Carry-Conceal Laws in Illinois took place in our voting booths on Tuesday, March 21,2012, in Pike County, Illinois. However, a step backwards would be the attention we would get from law abiding citizens to directly violate the State Law or ignore this argument and immediately begin to carry concealed weapons in violation of our current laws. The success of the vote in the last election is yet to come; under no circumstances should we hinder what so many have worked so hard to earn in putting this issue at the forefront of Illinois Politics. Our vote does not allow us to carry a concealed weapon off our own property. It is simply a big step towards such."

But Sheriff Petty and Lieutenant Lacey didn't stop there in their statement. In fact, they encouraged the supporters of the effort to "continue to stand fast in support of this work" and not "ignore your obligations as citizens who wish to be heard throughout the State and Nation."

Their concluding statements didn't sound much like law enforcement officials with the goal of seeing law-abiding citizens disarmed. "If you support this initiative," they wrote, "you need to continue to support persons like Dan Mefford and others who are fighting this fight. Encourage your friends in other counties to gather support the way Pike County has with this resolution."

They concluded with a statement that should more than likely be required as standard language on any pro-gun document calling for political action:

"In the event you wish to educate yourself on the current gun laws, now would be the perfect time to do so. Let's be educated and aware, it makes for an easier argument."

Knowledge is power...and, despite our occasionally gloomy forgetfulness of that point, all the power-ultimately- rests with the people.

Republished from The Outdoor Wire.

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