Pro-gun rights advocates packed the Deerfield Village Hall at a recent forum to decry the positions of Democratic lawmakers in favor of tighter gun-control laws.
The forum, hosted by U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider and state Rep. Scott Drury on April 22, was advertised as an informational session for residents and business owners on the state's concealed carry law and ongoing legislative efforts at the state and national level.
After introductory remarks by Schneider, Drury anchored a panel that included representatives from the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence and Moms Demand Action.
But the conversation quickly became more of a debate on the effectiveness of such laws and the source of gun violence. Drury stressed civility during the meeting, but several times the tension bubbled over.
"My guns didn't shoot anyone today," said James Hopkins, an Antioch resident and firearms dealer, to the panel. "Leave us alone with your rhetoric and your lies and go after the real criminals!"
His remarks, and those similar, drew hearty applause from the mostly pro-gun rights crowd, many of whom had traveled from various towns after hearing of the forum through organizations like the Illinois State Rifle Association.
One man was escorted from the room by a Deerfield police officer after a disruptive outburst. Others asked why the panel wasn't more balanced with pro-gun rights advocates.
Keith Turner, a Waukegan resident who said he has a concealed carry license, questioned how the law, which allows certified gun owners to carry concealed weapons in certain public places, can be effectively enforced.
"My point is you're passing laws that do not do anything," Turner said. "They're feel-good. They don't accomplish anything."
Drury, D-Highwood, said he was opposed to the state's concealed carry law, too, though for different reasons.
"I feel safer in a community where I don't think everyone in the restaurant — or the store or the place I'm at — may have a gun," Drury said. "That is my perspective. That is the way I grew up."
Enacted after a federal court mandate, Illinois statute identifies numerous places where guns are prohibited — including schools, public parks, government offices, hospitals, casinos, bars and restaurants that make more than 50 percent of gross receipts from alcohol sales.
Drury is sponsoring a bill, currently in a House committee, that would add more restrictions to the law, including prohibiting concealed carry in places that allow video gambling and in private residences without permission of the resident.
Schneider is co-sponsoring bills that would make gun trafficking a federal crime and that would expand background checks for guns sold at gun shows and online.
"I do think that we should have universal background checks and close the gun-show loophole," Schneider said.
Many in the crowd shouted their disagreement.
Both Drury and Schneider pointed to recent shooting deaths in Chicago, as well as the murder of Highland Park man Colin Nutter last summer, as examples of rampant gun violence in the Chicago area.
Schneider shared a personal connection to gun violence. His grandmother's younger brother was shot to death, he said.
"I pray for the day when no family suffers from the senseless loss of a loved one," he said.
The concealed carry law has exposed rifts in the suburbs, some of them leading to lawsuits.
Last summer, Deerfield and Highland Park were among the Chicago suburbs that raced to enact municipal ordinances regulating or banning the use of assault weapons before the state's concealed carry law preempted home-rule authority.
Some communities, like Deerfield, approved ordinances regulating transportation and storage. Highland Park approved an outright ban; its constitutionality is currently being challenged in federal court.
After the meeting, Drury said he considered the forum productive, despite its confrontational tone at times. It's important to discuss the issue openly and in person — not just through emails and blogs, he said.
"We need to get past the talking points and try to find common ground," Drury said. "Right now, there's too much shouting and not enough listening."
Drury hit upon one piece of common ground during the meeting, when he asked how many in attendance distrusted the state government. Nearly everyone in the room raised their hand.
"I'll raise my hand on that, too," Drury told them.