Following a 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that Illinois’ ban on carrying concealed firearms is unconstitutional, state legislators have been given until June to establish a law, including if carrying firearms on the state’s bus and rail transit systems should be restricted.
As the scramble began to put together a bill in February, transit officials around the state began reaching out to state legislators, urging them to restrict the carrying of firearms on their transit systems.
Among the efforts was a letter to state Rep. Michael J. Madigan from leaders at the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), Metra and Pace Suburban Bus. The letter stated that while the agencies respected citizens’ Second Amendment rights and acknowledged the Court of Appeals panel’s decision, they had “significant concerns that allowing individuals to carry firearms on buses, trains and paratransit vehicles will create an unsafe environment for the two million passengers that use mass transit every day.”
“We work together with the other service boards all the time on legislation that affects our industry, so we didn’t view this any differently,” explained Patrick Wilmot, spokesperson for Pace, about the letter. “We all have the same concerns and wanted to work together to strengthen our message to legislators about our position on the issue.”
The letter went on to say that no matter what side of the gun control debate Rep. Madigan stood, there was no question that a gun fired within a 45-foot-by-10-foot area, such as a bus, would be “catastrophic — whether to an intended or unintended target.” The agencies’ sentiment was also shared by Amalgamated Transit Union Local 308 (ATU), which represents CTA’s rail operators.
“I’m not opposed to a concealed-carry weapon law totally, but when it comes to public transportation, you have to draw a line somewhere,” explained ATU President Robert Kelly. “There are too many options for something to go wrong that outweigh what good could possibly come from carrying a weapon on a bus or train.”
Kelly added that if legislators failed to restrict the carrying of concealed firearms on public transit, he wanted his union members to be allowed to carry them as well.
“My viewpoint is if you’re going to al-low concealed weapons on trains, then let every CTA train conductor carry a gun for their protection and pay them the dual rate for being a police officer and a transit worker,” he said.
Pace’s Wilmot said that while the agency had not yet quantified what it would cost to increase safety and security on its system, the agency was concerned about liability.
“That is something that by itself would be significant, in terms of our agency being able to protect itself, if there were an incident on a bus,” he explained.
Although the National Rifle Association supports the carrying of firearms on public transportation, firearms are banned on buses and railcars in most major metropolitan cities, both Wilmot and Kelly said. It is because of that, as well as the unified message being carried to local leaders by the state’s transit systems, that both were optimistic that carrying firearms on Illinois buses and railcars would eventually be restricted.
“There are transit systems from throughout the state that are coming out in opposition to concealed carry on transit,” Wilmot said. “We think that creates a stronger, more cohesive message as we communicate to legislators, because obviously, it won’t just be Chicago area legislators voting on the bill.”
Wilmot added that the public transportation leaders’ plan was to keep an eye on developments as they occurred and continue to relay its message to try and stay “front of mind” as the deadline for legislation approached.
As of press time, no bill had been passed.