By Joanne von Alroth
SPRINGFIELD, Illinois (Reuters) - The Illinois House of Representatives on Friday voted overwhelmingly to allow residents to carry concealed guns, taking the state one step closer to joining all others in allowing some form of carrying guns in public.
Illinois is the only state in the nation to ban most people from carrying a concealed gun outside the home. Lawmakers acted on Friday after a federal appeals court in January struck down the ban, saying it violated the right to bear arms enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. The court gave the state six months to pass a new law that would be constitutional.
The National Rifle Association stayed silent on the proposal in order to avoid antagonizing some lawmakers who did not want to be seen voting for a plan backed by the gun lobby.
But if the proposal backed by powerful Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan becomes law, it would achieve the NRA's longtime goal of ending the Illinois ban and making some form of concealed carry legal in all 50 states.
The proposal faces stiff opposition from many lawmakers representing Chicago, where police say gun trafficking has led to a surge of violence and a rise in gang-related shootings and murders. Passage of the proposal in President Barack Obama's home state also would run counter to his administration's efforts to put more controls on guns in the wake of Newtown, Connecticut, school massacre last year.
Democratic Governor Pat Quinn and the leader of the Illinois Senate, John Cullerton, vowed to fight the plan.
"This legislation is wrong for Illinois," Quinn said in a statement after the vote. "We need strong gun safety laws that protect the people of our state. Instead, this measure puts public safety at risk."
Madigan noted that the bill passed 85 to 30, which is enough votes to override a veto by the governor.
Quinn and some state senators object in particular to a provision that would repeal gun control laws in Chicago and more than 200 other communities and replace them with state law.
The bill passed on Friday says the state "shall issue" a permit to carry a weapon if the person passes a background check and has a valid Firearm Owner's Identification Card.
It bans guns in bars where more than 50 percent of sales are from liquor, as well as at festivals.
The measure allows local law enforcement to object to granting permits to people with an arrest record, and those believed to be a danger to themselves or to the public. A new seven-member licensing board would review applications.
Under the measure, concealed carry would be prohibited at all schools, colleges and universities, child-care facilities, parks and playgrounds, Chicago area forest preserves, state and municipal government buildings, libraries, hospitals, mental health facilities, nursing homes, airports, stadiums, arenas, sporting events, amusement parks, zoos, museums, public transportation and government public gatherings.
The bill requires 16 hours of training, including range exercises, making Illinois training the most strenuous in the nation, Madigan said.
Current law bans the carrying of concealed weapons by virtually everyone except police and security guards, hunters and members of target shooting clubs.
All other states allow some concealed carry. Some, such as New York, have strict requirements. Others, such as some western states, do not require permits at all.
(Additional reporting by Greg McCune; Editing by Bob Burgdorfer)
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