Steve Chapman
There are certain constants to life in Illinois. Abraham Lincoln has always been revered. The Cubs always find a way to lose. Lake Michigan never goes dry. Letting citizens carrying concealed firearms is out of the question.

But one of those is no longer true. Tuesday, a federal appeals court said the state cannot maintain its flat ban on concealed-carry -- a policy that makes it unique among the 50 states. In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to have and use a gun for self-protection. Extending the logic of that decision, the appeals court said this freedom includes the right to carry a weapon outside the home.

"A Chicagoan is a good deal more likely to be attacked on a sidewalk in a rough neighborhood than in his apartment on the 35th floor of Park Tower," wrote Judge Richard Posner. "To confine the right to be armed to the home is to divorce the Second Amendment from the right of self-defense..."

This decision comes as a surprise, partly because it does not appear to be strictly in line with what the court said in the 2008 case. "Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited," wrote Justice Antonin Scalia. "For example, the majority of the 19th-century courts to consider the question held that prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons were lawful under the Second Amendment or state analogues."

The court also specifically accepted "laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings" -- even though the need for self-defense may arise in those places. But some eminent legal scholars, like UCLA's Eugene Volokh, agree with the appeals court's view that "the Second Amendment secures a right to keep and bear arms outside the home, possibly subject to some regulation and limitation."

It's hard to overstate what a radical step this is in Illinois, with its stubbornly impervious suspicion of guns in general and handguns in particular. Sure, there are hunters and target shooters, but they have limited sway with lawmakers.

The resistance to concealed weapons makes it an outlier. So does its law requiring a state permit, known as a Firearm Owners Identification card, to buy a gun or ammunition. Chicago (along with a couple of other cities) had a complete ban on handgun ownership, which lasted until 2010, when the Supreme Court struck it down.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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