Dangerous Duty

Dangerous Duty:  “Duty to Inform” in Illinois CCW Bill

By Chris Knox

A debate over a “Duty to Inform” (DTI) clause in a proposed concealed carry law is currently raging in Illinois, pitting Chicago gun owners against “downstate” (i.e. not Cook County) folks.  It’s a family fight, and outsiders are rarely welcome in such squabbles.  Outsiders in the present case would include this Arizona-based columnist.  Some key sources in both Illinois and within the NRA either flatly refused to speak to me or just went silent when I started asking questions.  Opponents of the DTI language, mostly based in Chicago, are furious, fearing that the bad provisions of the law will expose them to cops who will automatically swing into tactical mode at the sight of a civilian gun.  Proponents of the language – those who would speak with me – acknowledge the issues, but feel that getting the bill through is worth the problematic language.

As most readers know, Illinois was the last state to recognize some semblance of the right to carry a defensive weapon.  In December of 2012 the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the concealed carry ban violated the Second Amendment.  The court gave Illinois 180 days to implement a concealed carry system.  Not surprisingly, opponents of the Second Amendment hope to minimally comply with the order, and will throw obstacles in front of anyone daring to exercise the right to bear arms.  By making it dangerous to carry in certain districts, Duty to Inform is one such obstacle.  

The bill most likely to pass is HB 997, introduced by Rep. Brandon Phelps whose district lies in the southern tip if Illinois.  The actual source of the DTI language in the bill is murky.  Rep. Phelps has stated that the language came from the NRA.  Calls to the NRA were not returned, but at least one trusted source tells me that the NRA denied drafting the language.  It seems to have appeared at least two years ago when the Illinois legislature last flirted with a concealed-carry law.  At that time NRA contract lobbyist Todd Vandermyde had offered the language to neutralize the then-vociferous opposition by the Illinois Association of Police Chiefs to any sort of concealed-carry bill.  

As the main strategist for the legislation, Mr. Vandermyde apparently feels that the chiefs’ support, or at least lack of opposition, still hinges on DTI and that neutralizing them is key to passing the bill.  I say “apparently” because Mr. Vandermyde refused to speak with me saying I was not being helpful, and hung up.  A video shows him before a committee hearing saying that the language was included after “four years of negotiations with the police chiefs and the sheriffs.”  

The DTI language was a tactic to dilute opposition from law enforcement.  In reality, DTI will not contribute anything to officer safety.  Cops know that every traffic stop must be treated as a potentially lethal situation.  Likewise, a responsible citizen knows that it’s not a good idea to surprise a cop.  The risk of DTI is that it creates an excuse, or can be misused if an encounter with police turns bad, as was a case in Canton, Ohio that turned into a minor YouTube sensation.  Making a traffic stop, the Ohio officer was so aggressively “in charge” as he conducted a (probably illegal) search of a vehicle, that the driver could not get out that he had a CCW permit and that he was carrying.

The experience of other states with DTI, particularly Ohio, shows that DTI with criminal penalties creates dangers for anyone who carries.  Other states have DTI, but most do not have onerous penalties attached.  Under the proposed Illinois language, failure to inform would be a serious misdemeanor, as in Ohio, with penalties that could include loss of gun rights.

Whether the DTI language – and the support of the police chiefs – is still needed for the bill to pass is a judgment call.  Mr. Vandermyde and others outside Chicago feel that the legislation needs to pass as it is and that problems with the bill can be addressed once it has passed.  Chicago and Cook County residents fear that DTI will put them at the mercy of swaggering cops who go into felony stop mode if they see a gun.  Chicago Police Chief Gary McCarthy went right up to the line of saying that anyone with a gun would be assumed to be a bad guy.  The implications are chilling.

I claim no expertise in the ways of the Illinois legislature, and certainly can’t count the votes.  Nonetheless, it is a new day in Illinois.  In addition to the court order, attitudes are changing, particularly among African-Americans in Chicago.  Can the bill pass without the dangerous language?  I don’t know.  Should the DTI language be a poison pill?  Probably not.  But if the DTI language can’t come out before the bill goes to the floor, it needs to be addressed as soon as possible.  Hopefully the proof of the need for fixing the law won’t be a concealed carry permit holder in jail, or worse, dead.