Public transit takes center stage in debate over carrying concealed weapons

February 22, 2013

A federal court reinforced its opinion on Friday that Illinois must adopt a new law allowing citizens to carry concealed weapons.

That leaves lawmakers wondering if passengers on trains and buses could start carrying guns. At a legislative hearing in Chicago on Friday, some public officials said they don’t want guns in churches or government buildings. Several mass transit agencies said they also don’t want guns on buses or trains.

Ron Holt agrees. He’s the father of Blair Holt, a teenager who was shot and killed on a Chicago bus a few years ago. Holt said he’s frequently asked what if another passenger had had a gun.

“There would’ve been more bloodletting on that bus. More people would’ve been shot. More people would’ve been killed,” Holt testified to the House Judiciary Committee.

But Todd Vandermyde, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, said the law should apply throughout the state.

“We think that just because you avail yourselves of public transit, that you should not be deprived of your right to self-defense,” he said.

The head of the Chicago Transit Authority, Forrest Claypool, said allowing guns on public transit is a, “recipe for disaster.”

Claypool said violent crime dropped 19 percent last year on the CTA. He said theft of smart phones has gone up, and he’s concerned bystanders could get hurt if concealed weapons are allowed on the CTA.

“Concealed carry in other environments may work very well. On a crowded train or bus or platform at a station, it’s a recipe for disaster,” he said.

Meantime, geography is shaping some of the debate over concealed carry. A lot of the differences in arguments have to do with the age old divide between downstaters and Chicagoans.

Chicago Alderman Harry Osterman took a veiled dig at the argument that people should be allowed to carry guns on buses and trains at Friday’s hearing.

“I’ve read recently people advocating carrying them on an L, and I would assume that none of the people that have advocated that have ever ridden on an L,” he said.

Meantime, the NRA’s Vandermyde wasn’t so veiled in his comments.

“Certain members of the body think that everybody south of I-80 is some kind of Neanderthal,” he said.

Vandermyde said people should be allowed to carry concealed weapons on public transit and he went so far as to say Chicago and Cook County abuse the rights of gun owners.

Next week, the parties involved meet again to discuss a ban on so-called assault weapons.

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