Facemasks and Firearms in Illinois.

Updated April 28th, 2020 with additional information.

Let’s discuss wearing a face mask while carrying a concealed firearm in Illinois. Recently on April 23rd, 2020 Illinois Governor JB Pritzker announced that as of May 1st, 2020 nearly all Illinois residents would be required to wear a face mask when leaving their house, with some exceptions. This summarization of Pritzker’s announcement is an oversimplification and not the point of this article. With this announcement, Pritzker reignited an old debate, which began around the time the Illinois Firearm Concealed Carry Licensing Act (FCCL) was passed and that argument is whether a concealed carry licensee may wear a hood or face mask while carrying a concealed firearm in Illinois.

The nature of the question about wearing a face mask while carrying a concealed firearm stems from the Illinois criminal code. Specifically the Unlawful Use of Weapons (UUW) provision which states…

(720 ILCS 5/24-1) (from Ch. 38, par. 24-1)

Sec. 24-1. Unlawful use of weapons.

(a) A person commits the offense of unlawful use of weapons when he knowingly:

(9) Carries or possesses in a vehicle or on or about his or her person any pistol, revolver, stun gun or taser or firearm or ballistic knife, when he or she is hooded, robed or masked in such manner as to conceal his or her identity;

In 2013, when the FCCL passed this was an issue the instructor community debated to the point of “beating a dead horse”. The general consensus within the instructor community was that the part of the UUW which states “in such a manner” is speaking to intent. And, at that time, the instructor community took a collective wait and see approach. Let’s wait and see what happens, if there are any arrests and therefore subsequent case law.

I should take a moment to point out something very important. Very few instructors are also lawyers. Therefore the consensus of the “instructor community” is mostly meaningless since most firearm instructors do not write the law, enforce the law, or litigate the law. In other words, the opinions of myself and the instructor community at large shouldn’t ever be considered legal advice.

Having said that, the wait and see approach has returned no case law, to the best of my knowledge and I did spend some time searching. What I do know for a fact is that Illinois concealed carry licensees, that is those Illinois gun owners who are licensed to carry concealed firearms, have been wearing masks over our faces for 6 years while carrying concealed firearms. And again, to the best of my knowledge, In this time there have been no arrests for wearing the masks. Many concealed carry licensees choose to cover their faces during winter to keep warm, and the rest of the year to keep safe while riding motorcycles.

And this is where that “intent” part comes up again. It isn’t out intent to conceal our identities. We intend to keep warm and or remain safe. It seems very logical. However sadly logic doesn’t often apply to Illinois convoluted and often contradictory gun laws. It is certainly a possible valid argument (read: defense) that you should discuss with your criminal defense attorney.

On April 28th the Illinois State Police Firearms Services Bureau sent out an email to some licensed gun dealers. This email is as follows…

The Governor’s Executive Order regarding the wearing of masks or protective facial coverings in public settings during this serious global pandemic was not intended to negatively impact permit holders under the Illinois Concealed Carry Act while legally carrying firearms.  The Executive Order does not require or suggest that law enforcement should arrest or criminally charge conceal carry license permit holders for wearing protective masks while in public as long as they are complying with the other provisions of the Illinois Concealed Carry Act and are not committing any other violations of Illinois law.  ISP has confidence that law enforcement officers across the state will use appropriate judgment and that elected State’s Attorneys will likewise exercise sound prosecutorial discretion.

So what now? Where does that leave gun owners in regards to wearing a mask while carrying a firearm in Illinois? Are gun owners being forced to choose between wearing a mask as required by executive order, and simultaneously deciding whether to commit a felony (UUW)? Or are gun owners being disarmed by this EO?

It sure would be a great thing if Pritzker clarified that UUW (a) (9) should not be enforced against persons with a Firearm Owner Identification card. Furthermore, it would also be nice to see the Illinois legislature clear up this confusion with a very simple amendment to the UUW which adds an exemption for persons otherwise lawfully possessing firearms.  But, until then; It is my personal opinion, not legal advice, that the issue of wearing a mask while otherwise legally carrying a concealed firearm in Illinois is mostly a non-issue. And, I say this because throughout the 6 years since the passage of the (FCCL) there haven’t been any arrests for it (to my knowledge). However, because the vague law is indeed on the books, I also can’t encourage my students to ignore it. Each gun owner in Illinois is going to have to make their own choice, and consult with their criminal defense attorney, and decide for themselves if they should or should not wear a mask while carrying a concealed firearm in Illinois.

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