Two committee hearings later, legislators continue to debate gun control issues.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has weighed in on the issue saying he believes strongly that legislation restricting semiautomatic weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines should be passed this year, according to a spokeswoman.
Rep. Elaine Nekritz, chairwoman of the Judiciary Civil Law Committee in the last session, supports the measure.
State Representative Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg) filed a bill legalizing concealed carry in the state in January. The Family and Personal Protection Act (HB 997) would allow licensed citizens to carry a handgun.
The bill follows in the wake of a ruling by the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals that declared the state’s ban on the right to carry unconstitutional and granted the General Assembly 180 days to pass a right-to-carry law.
Sen. Gary Forby (D-Benton) is confident that the General Assembly will pass a reasonable concealed-carry bill.
“This is the year that we will finally grant responsible gun owners the right to carry a concealed handgun,” he said. “For too long we have denied the residents of this state the ability to exercise their Second Amendment right to protect themselves and their families.”
Illinois lawmakers who support concealed carry have been working for years to pass right-to-carry legislation.
“Rep. Phelps introduced a similar bill last year in the House that fell just short of passage,” Forby said. “I am convinced we have enough votes in the Senate to pass a concealed-carry bill, and I think the added pressure of the circuit court’s decision might sway a few more representatives to support this bill.”
Under the new proposal, applicants must be 21 years old, own a FOID card, undergo four hours of training and pass a live-fire exercise.
Forby said he has been focusing on Second Amendment rights for several months.
"There have been numerous events that have occurred during this time that will impact gun owners in Illinois, and I want to make sure they are aware of the details and events that may affect their Second Amendment rights," he said.
In December, the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the state’s ban on carrying a weapon in public is unconstitutional and gave lawmakers 180 days to pass a concealed-carry bill, Forby said.
"The 2-1 decision was a huge win for gun rights advocates, who have argued that the ban on concealed weapons violates the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment and what they see as citizens' right to carry guns for self defense," he said.
Forby said the process of crafting a concealed-carry bill has already started. "Under Rep. Phelps' proposed bill licensed residents could carry a handgun on them or in their vehicles," Forby said. "The bill does have some restrictions on where license holders may carry guns without written permission and requirements.”
Page 2 of 4 - Phelps proposes that applicants must be least 21 years old, have a Firearm Owner’s Identification card and proof of National Rifle Association or equivalent firearms training.
Applicants also must pass a criminal background check and have no documented history of mental illness or alcohol abuse, Phelps said.
Franklin County Sheriff Don Jones said the issue is multi-faceted.
"I have been around guns all of my life," he said. "My family have always had guns. Dad hunted and liked to target practice. He always had rifles and shotguns and at least one pistol. I inherited the pistol. In fact, Dad gave it to me not long before he passed away."
Jones said he believes that the Illinois Sheriffs Association would concur that taking guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens is not the answer.
"As I see it, there are two kinds of people who should not have guns; criminals who are never supposed to have guns in the first place, and those who have mental health problems," he said.
"As a society, we need to do a better job of intervention and treatment of those with mental illness," Jones said.
He said convicted felons face additional felony charges and enhanced prison sentences if they are found to be in possession of a firearm.
"The problem is not law abiding citizens," Jones said. "It is a constitutional right for law abiding citizens to have guns. The last thing we should be thinking about is taking guns away from law abiding citizens. There is nothing to gain by taking guns out of the hands of law abiding citizens.
"The only way to prevent a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," he said. "Citizens have the right to protect themselves in their homes."
Jones said the majority of law enforcement officials support the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms. "The emphasis should be on training and storage of weapons," he said. "Under proposed concealed carry legislation, gun owners would have to be trained and undergo criminal history background checks.
"It's easy to find out the criminal history of a convicted felon," Jones said. "It is much more difficult to determine mental health issues. That is a major concern to law enforcement. We must do something to either separate those with mental illness from society or do a better job of intervention and treatment. The answer is certainly not denying law abiding people their rights.
"During the Illinois Sheriff's Association winter conference, the association unanimously called for upholding the rights set forth in the U.S. Constitution, including those set forth in the Second Amendment," he said.
Jones said members endorsed a resolution that mirrors one endorsed by the National Sheriff's Association.
Page 3 of 4 - Jones said the Sheriff's Association stance is that rational law abiding citizens are not the cause of random acts of horrific violence in our communities.
"Instead of limiting access to firearms, we believe lawmakers should focus on the lack of mental health services in our country," he said.
Jones said Association members believe there is a strong link between untreated mental illness and the increased risk of committing violent acts.
Additionally the association voted unanimously not to support the proposed legislation House Bill 132 that proposes bans certain weapons and ammunition, he said.
The Guns&Ammo website offers storage options and strongly advises hunters to store guns and ammunition properly between trips to the shooting range or hunting trip.
For more information, visit www.gunsandammo.com/2012/10/16/ga-basics-how-to-store-your-gun.
Forby said he would continue to work with legislators on concealed carry.
"One thing to keep in mind is concealed carry will be legal regardless of whether Chicago politicians decide to introduce their own legislation," he said. "During my time as your state senator, I have always fought to protect your right to bear arms and I will continue to do so throughout this process."
Forby said until a recent ruling by the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, Illinois had a prohibition on carrying a concealed weapon in public, making it the only state without some form of concealed carry.
"In response to that ruling, activists on both sides of the issue, members in the General Assembly and the general public have been engaged in discussions about what type of legislation should be created," he said. "While these discussions can sometimes leave people frustrated or upset, I think they are extremely vital in educating people on firearms and necessary if we are going to craft responsible legislation."
Forby said guns have also been a part of his life.
"I began hunting at a young age and have owned many different types of firearms throughout my life," he said. "I can’t say the same for many of my colleagues in Springfield.
"That is why I have worked hard to educate other members on gun ownership and use, especially members who did not grow up in a rural community," Forby said. "Too often we interact with people who have a negative attitude toward guns or gun owners, simply because they have no experience with firearms or an understanding of the culture surrounding guns."
He said many people are not aware of the different ways in which gun owners use their firearms or even how a firearm works.
"That is why it is our duty as responsible gun owners to inform others about the important aspects of owning and operating a firearm," Forby said.
Page 4 of 4 - In February, Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon announced that 15 freshman members of the General Assembly will be part of a new Firearms Working Group created to help bridge the geographical divide on gun ownership and use in Illinois.
She said the working group includes Republicans and Democrats who represent urban, suburban and rural districts.
Forby said it is his hope that at the end of the working group, these newly elected members have a better informed viewpoint on firearms and new ideas that will help craft legislation aimed at promoting gun ownership.
"While it may not sway them to support a concealed-carry bill, they will at least have a better understanding of firearms when voting on legislation that affects gun owners," he said.
"I will always fight to protect your constitutional right to bear arms," Forby said. "I will continue to stand by Southern Illinois hunters and all Illinois’ law-abiding citizens to work on reasonable legislation that promotes and protects our rights. But I encourage you to get involved with the discussion — whether that means talking to a neighbor, a stranger or an elected official."
Reps. John Bradley, (D-Marion), Mike Bost (R-Murphysboro) and Jerry Costello II (D-Smithton) have co-sponsored Phelps' bill.
Bradley also vows to continue the fight for concealed carry. He spoke during a pro-gun rally held in February at the Benton Elks Lodge. Bradley said it is time to send a message to the rest of the state. He is also an avid hunter and National Rifle Association supporter.
Army Cpl. Chaz Ligon let his guitar do his talking that day as he performed "The Star Spangled Banner." Ligon knows all too well of the dangers of having weapons in the hands of those who intentionally harm others.
A hunter himself, he was doing his job as a private protecting America in December 2011 when an IED, or improvised explosive device, exploded near his vehicle in Afghanistan.
After being treated in Germany, Ligon returned to the United States for more surgery and rehabilitation.
His mother reported that he lost his leg below the left knee and sight in his left eye. She said Ligon also sustained second-degree burns to his face, a severe compound fracture that has been repaired and fractured ribs.
He returned to his West Frankfort home amid cheering fans in the summer of 2012.