Last updated on October 20th, 2023
In 2021 a federal judge ruled that the ban on concealed carry in the Cook County forest preserves is unconstitutional. The Judge did give a stay on enforcement of his ruling, meaning the unconstitutional ban was allowed to be enforced for several months. The state legislature missed the deadline to revise their ban, though they did try. However, if you read the Illinois Concealed Carry Licensing Act, the ban still is on the books. So, now, what does this all mean for those of us who carry a firearm in Illinois? As with all things firearm related in Illinois, it’s not simple.
A History Lesson about Concealed Carry in Illinois
Before we can discuss the current situation regarding the ban on concealed carry in the Cook County Forest Preserves, we first need to take a short trip back in time and see how this ruling came to be. We must first understand how we got to where we are to understand the process of “sausage-making”, that is the legislative and judicial processes. This history trip only goes back a few years, but this trip will help you, the reader, make sense of it all.
Illinois passed concealed carry legislation in 2013, however it was only through a federal court ruling that forced it. Sound familiar? That’s where we are now. Illinois was the last state to allow honest nonviolent firearm owners to carry firearms for their self-protection. While some firearm freedom advocates in the state legislature tried for years to pass concealed carry legislation, those politicians who prefer civilian disarmament blocked it from passing.
If you care to dive down the rabbit hole of that court case, it began in 2009. The case is Mary Shepard versus Madigan. This case was later merged with another similar case, Moore versus Madigan. The ultimate result is that the federal courts told Illinois they must allow us to carry firearms and had a set period of time to enact legislation of some kind.
The legislation that we got in 2013 was the Illinois Firearm Concealed Carry Licensing Act. This legislation is imperfect and passed with 23 categories of gun-free zones. One of those gun-free zones is the Cook County Forest Preserves. It is important to note that there are 102 counties in Illinois, yet Cook County was singled out. No other county bans concealed carry in their forest preserves, only Cook.
Simon Solomon is an avid fisherman and was fishing in a Cook County forest preserve. Solomon was also carrying concealed and was arrested for it. Solomon and his legal team headed by Ilia Usharovich filed suit in 2017 claiming Solomon’s rights were infringed upon, citing Second Amendment violations, violations of Due Process, and a violation of Equal Protection.
As previously noted in 2021, the federal courts agreed with Solomon, ruled the ban on carrying in Cook County Forest Preserves is Unconstitutional and gave the state until March 15th to “take up the issue”. The state was later granted extensions until June 7th, 2022, and did indeed attempt to pass legislation. HB4296 nearly passed, but ultimately failed.
On June 7th Illinois Attorney General, Kwame Raoul did file a status report stating “The 2022 legislative session of the General Assembly concluded without the passage of an amendment to Section 65(a)(14) of the Illinois Concealed Carry Act.”
That brings us to today and Carrying in the Forest Preserves.
Judicial rulings don’t change statutory law. Huh? The federal judge said the ban on carrying in the cook county forest preserves is unconstitutional, however, if one reads Illinois concealed carry licensing act, the ban still shows. So how does one resolve this? In a judicial committee hearing, of the Illinois General Assembly, discussing HB4296 the politicians were doing just that, trying to resolve the unconstitutional ban remaining on the books. The consensus of that committee meeting was “it will remain on the books but will be unenforceable”. Ultimately though HB4296 did make it out of committee, it thankfully never made it to the floor for a vote.
What does unenforceable mean exactly? That’s a great question because it doesn’t mean you can’t be arrested. It wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination for a police officer to enforce a ban on the books if the officer isn’t aware of the court ruling. As a police officer once told me many years ago, you can beat the rap but can’t beat the ride. This means you’ll likely win in court but can still be arrested. The court has ruled one may be arrested for anything, all the officer needs is reasonable suspicion that what you did might be against the law.
What you can do if you Carry in the Cook County Forest Preserves
I’ve been telling my students, that if you are going to go armed to the cook county forest preserves, they should also go armed with knowledge. You might need to educate a cop. Of course, do so politely. This is what I would say if I were approached by law enforcement while carrying in the Cook County Forest Preserves.
Officer, I understand that there is a ban on the books. However, I do want to draw your attention to the Solomon ruling. On September 13, 2021, Honorable Robert Dow Jr., of the 7th District Federal Courts, ruled that this prohibition on carrying in the Cook County Forest Preserves is unconstitutional. On June 7th of 2022, Illinois Attorney General filed a status update with the courts conceding a loss. Enforcing this ban would be an unconstitutional arrest. I encourage you to check with your supervisor before taking any action.
This is all very new and confusion will likely only be a temporary issue until the ruling trickles down to local law enforcement. I can’t tell you what to do, but I will publicly state that I am now carrying my concealed handgun when I visit the cook county forest preserves.