BLOOMINGTON — McLean County could become an island of concealed carry for gun owners in a state that does not allow weapons to be carried in public, according to new guidelines for prosecuting gun crimes announced Tuesday by State’s Attorney Ron Dozier.
Jason Chambers, the man who is expected to take over when Dozier leaves the office in October called the policy shift “reckless.”
In a four-page statement, Dozier said his office will not file charges against law-abiding citizens who possess weapons.
“We will no longer use the power and authority of our office to criminalize and punish decent otherwise law-abiding citizens who chose to exercise their rights granted under them by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to keep and bear arms in defense of themselves and their families,” said Dozier’s statement.
Dozier, who was appointed in December to fill in as state’s attorney until a new chief prosecutor was elected, said he has been “quietly changing our policies to bring them in accordance with the rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court.”
At the same time, Twin City police officials said they will not change their enforcement policies because of Dozier’s new directive.
Dozier cited a 2008 case that held citizens — not just the military — have a right to possess guns for personal defense, and a 2010 decision that held states have a right to make their own gun laws.
Dozier said his office will no longer prosecute violations of state laws related to Firearm Owners Identification Cards, unlawful use of weapons and aggravated unlawful use of weapons and other statutes that appear to be in conflict with two other Supreme Court decisions on gun ownership. The use of weapons laws punish people “for merely possessing (not using or threatening to use) a firearm in the wrong place or wrong kind of container,” said Dozier.
In determining if charges will be filed, Dozier said he will consider: whether drugs or alcohol are involved; the reason the person was carrying a firearm; if the gun was used recklessly; and, if the person is not an Illinois citizen, whether the gun was possessed or carried under the terms of his state’s regulations. An individual’s possible connection to gangs and a felony conviction record also will be taken into account when charges are reviewed, said Dozier.
Dozier said he is not urging anyone to disregard the law and he has “no right or intention of telling local law enforcement agencies when or under what circumstances to make arrests for firearms offenses.”
His support for gun rights that he believes citizens have under the Second Amendment is the driving force behind the announcement, he said. His opinion that Illinois should follow the rest of the country and allow citizens to carry firearms outside their homes also played a role in the new policy.
“Illinois remains the only state in the union to deny its citizens the legal right to ‘bear’ firearms either open or concealed, for personal defense. We are the only state to have a draconian FOID card law that makes criminals out of ordinary citizens who have done nothing wrong except exercise their constitutional right to own a gun,” said Dozier.
Not everyone supports the decision that could make McLean County, in effect, a CCW area in an otherwise non-CCW state.
Enforcing current laws
McLean County Sheriff Mike Emery said his officers will continue to enforce Illinois’ gun laws.
“Many share the same belief as our state’s attorney, including me. However, until the governor signs legislation creating CCW, all firearms have to be unloaded and cased and for transport to be legal and the owner must possess a FOID card. I advised sheriff’s office law enforcement staff that we will not change our enforcement policies and that we shall continue to enforce the laws of the state of Illinois as they currently exist,” Emery told The Pantagraph.
Bloomington Police Chief Randy McKinley said while he respects Dozier and agrees with a person’s right to own a weapon, his officers also will continue to enforce the law. “My responsibility is to enforce the laws of the state of Illinois and ordinances of the city of Bloomington and I intend to do that,” said McKinley.
Normal’s Chief Rick Bleichner agreed with his colleagues. “The laws are what they are. If we have probable cause to make an arrest, we will do it. It’s the job of the state’s attorney’s office to decide charges,” he said.
The local law enforcement officials were among a group of people who received an advance copy of the statement two weeks ago.