Illinois is one of only three states that flatly ban gun owners from openly carrying their weapons, and advocates on both sides of the gun debate don’t expect the not guilty verdict in the Kyle Rittenhouse case to change that.
“To get open carry passed here, I’ll be eating tapioca pudding in a nursing home before that happens,” said John Boch, executive director of the Champaign-based Guns Save Life firearms ownership advocacy group. “We see it as futile to try and get anything passed legislatively, so we’ve taken our fight to the courts.”
Only Illinois, Florida and New York have blanket bans on the open carry of firearms. California largely prohibits open carry, but there are some exceptions, while Hawaii and Tennessee ban the open carry of rifles.
“We don’t allow open carry in Illinois, and as long as I’m in the Legislature, we will not have open carry,” said state Rep. Kathleen Willis, D-Addison. “No matter what way the Rittenhouse verdict [went], I don’t see anyone in the Legislature changing their stance on that.”
Willis said most firearm legislation in Illinois is divided more on geographical lines than on political ones.
“In all honesty, gun legislation tends to be more north and south than Republican or Democrat,” she said. “In the north, guns are viewed as weapons, and in the southern part of the state they’re considered more as tools, and that mindset makes a difference.”
Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, said the issue isn’t just a matter of personal freedom but also personal safety.
“Some people feel that if someone sees you’re armed, they’ll leave you alone,” he said.
Most U.S. states allow the open carry of all firearms. Although some require a permit, many don’t.
Among the five states that border Illinois, the open carry of all kinds of weapons is permitted in Wisconsin, Iowa and Kentucky. A permit is needed in Wisconsin to carry a weapon in a vehicle. No permit is needed in Iowa or Kentucky.
In Indiana, a permit is required to openly carry a handgun but not a rifle.
Missouri’s open carry laws are superseded by local ordinances in many instances, which require a permit or mandate concealed carry.
In the Rittenhouse case, the former Antioch teenager was charged with first-degree intentional homicide after shooting three men, killing Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and wounding Gaige Grosskreutz, during protests last summer over a police-involved shooting two days earlier.
Rittenhouse, who was 17 at the time and had a friend buy the rifle he used, claimed he was defending businesses in Kenosha, Wisconsin, from looters when he was attacked and shot the men in self-defense. A jury last week cleared him on all charges after days of deliberations.
“Maybe what the verdict will do is some people in the [Illinois] Democratic caucus might go so far as to reshape our self-defense laws to prevent Rittenhouse from successfully doing what he did in Kenosha,” Boch said.
Willis argued that the case would never have happened without Wisconsin’s permissive open carry laws.
“If Kyle Rittenhouse had strictly gone out there to administer first aid like he claimed, without a gun, this would not have happened,” she said. “That gun was the stimulus for a lot of bad things to happen.”