PEORIA — Twenty years ago, Bob Zimmerman ran into a panhandler who wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.
The Germantown Hills resident was at a rest stop in Florida, and the man wanted money. Things didn’t get physical, Zimmerman said, but if he hadn’t gotten into his truck as quickly as he did, he’s sure there would have been a fight.
From that point on, Zimmerman knew he needed a gun. Because carrying concealed weapons is illegal in Illinois, he applied for a license in Florida three years ago, and has been carrying his gun ever since.
“That weapon isn’t going to hurt anyone unless they’re going to harm me or my family,” he said.
Three years ago, carrying a weapon in Illinois was illegal for residents such as Zimmerman, but Tuesday a federal appeals court struck down a ban on carrying concealed weapons in Illinois. Illinois is the last state where carrying weapons is entirely illegal.
The ruling is a victory for gun rights advocates such as Peoria mayor Jim Ardis, who argues that the prohibition against concealed weapons violates rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
“We deserve our 2nd Amendment right to carry as law-abiding citizens of the United States,” he wrote in an email. “I am confident that this ruling will permit us to continue our crime prevention efforts in Peoria with additional support from our citizens who want to carry to protect themselves, their families and their property.”
In 2009, Ardis proposed that Peoria serve as a pilot city for a concealed carry law, saying it could answer whether gun ownership prevents crime.
Police Chief Steve Settingsgaard said he has been a long-time supporter of Ardis’ pilot program, so long as the law is written correctly.
“Assuming the court ruling stands, the important thing now will be to ensure that the law is written so that concealed carry can be implemented safely and that the infrastructure can be built to provide any necessary training, testing, or other certifications,” he wrote in an email response.
State lawmakers have 180 days to write a new law that legalizes concealed carry. Tazewell State’s Attorney Stewart Umholtz said he doesn’t want to comment on the issue until the document has been reviewed.
“I think it is important that people focus on both the fact that there is a right, and with every right there are awesome responsibilities for exercising those rights,” he said. “I think too much of the discussion focuses on rights and not responsibilities.”
But John Meek, owner of Midwest Firearms in East Peoria, said the right to bear arms is both constitutional and a personal necessity for him, as gun stores are normally targeted for theft. He and the other store employee both carry a Glock pistol for protection, he said.
“We have a right to protect ourselves as citizens, and it is highly unconstitutional to prevent,” he said. “I am totally in favor of law-abiding citizens that want to carry guns.”