The push for a concealed carry ordinance in Winnebago County moves ahead as county board members form a subcomittee to give the issue a closer look. But some say the proposal may be off target.
Any debate over the second amendment is guaranteed to trigger strong reactions. Many people worry more guns will lead to more crime. But gun advocates gathered at a Winnebago County Board committee meeting say, when in the right hands, the opposite is true.
"We really need to draw the line between criminals and the law abiding citizens," says Rockford gun rights advocate Shaun Kranish. "You don't have to worry about the law-abiding citizens ever. But the criminals, they're going to commit crimes no matter what the laws say."
But one board member believes legal or not, freer access to firearms raises the risk of a tragedy.
"Once you shoot or maime, or kill someone, if you say well I'm sorry, I didn't mean it, I thought that person was going to do me harm, it's too late," says board member Pearl Hawkes.
That debate is just half the issue right now. The other question is whether Winnebago County can allow residents to carry concealed firearms, when the state does not. Proponents believe Sheriff Dick Meyers has the authority to arm residents by deputizing them.
Meyers says, "That's not factual, that's not accurate, that's not true."
State's Attorney Phil Nicolosi agrees Meyers can only issue gun permits to citizens when they are in uniform, performing a specific law enforcement task.
"When they go home at night, they take the uniform off, statute does not allow them to carry a weapon," says Sheriff Meyers.
But board members pushing the proposal believe that's up for interpretation. They say Meyers can change his policy to keep citizens deputized and armed 24 hours.
"With crime being out of control, I think the sheriff has the authority to say hey, we don't have the manpower, the city doesn't have the manpower, we need citizens to get more involved and start defending themselves," says County Board Member Randy Olson.
Citizens would have to go through training and background checks before gaining a permit.
The county board subcommittee dedicated to this issue will meet next Tuesday in the county administration building to talk details. They will hold public hearings before bringing the proposal to the full county board for a vote.
If the board passes the resolution, most likely either Sheriff Meyers would issue the permits and someone would sue him or vice versa. The National Rifle Association has offered to represent the county in that event, so the taxpayers would not have to shoulder the litigation costs.