It seems like common sense and courtesy – if you are stopped, you should mention to the officer if you are carrying a concealed weapon. But like so many other issues with guns, what seems like common sense, dressed in the solemn robes of law, may be a trap for the unwary.

Illinois has long been the holdout – the last bastion of prohibition against defensive carry. That’s about to change. The state faces a federal court order to produce a provision for lawful concealed carry by June. The state of Illinois, and particularly Chicago, will comply as minimally as possible. The state will make it time consuming, expensive and dangerous to exercise the right to keep and bear arms with arcane requirements and legal hoops. One of those hoops is “Duty to Inform” language coupled with criminal penalties.

In brief, “Duty to Inform” (DTI) language in a concealed-carry law requires that a lawfully-armed person having interaction with law enforcement must inform the officer as soon as practical that he is armed. In most cases, DTI is simple and straightforward. Someone stopped for a broken taillight hands over his concealed-carry papers along with driver’s license and registration. But what if the CCW licensee is a passenger? What if the encounter is on the street and outside of a vehicle? What if the law-enforcement officer is not in uniform and not displaying a badge? Add to this mix criminal penalties for failing to inform the officer to his satisfaction, and the mix becomes volatile.

Add to all that the possibility that some police officers might be corrupt, bigoted or just a jerk, as happened in an Ohio dashcam video:

The officer in the video is in such aggressive control of the situation that for the first five minutes of the encounter, he fails to give the permit holder a chance to inform him, even as the officer conducts a (probably illegal) search of the vehicle. When the permit holder hands over the permit along with his driver’s license, the officer launches into a profane, threat-filled tirade. The officer in this particular incident, one who pretty much defines the “jack-booted thug” school of policing, was first fired, but may be eligible to be reinstated.

Duty to Inform is a legal charade. While it’s courteous and smart not to surprise a cop with a weapon, attaching criminal penalties to stating something that should be both assumed and obvious creates a way for the law-abiding to become accidental criminals. Standard police procedure is to treat every traffic stop as an encounter with an armed person. Moreover, the officer is likely to know of a driver’s CCW status from running the plate. A law-abiding CCW permit-holder is unlikely to be a threat, having gone to the trouble to comply with the law by applying for the permit in the first place. A thug planning to shoot an officer is not going to give notice.

The risk to a CCW holder is that in the jitters of a traffic stop or other encounter with law enforcement, the law-abiding carrier might simply forget to give the information promptly. Or, as in the case of the crazy Ohio cop, may never get the opportunity. In Illinois it is a felony to record an officer in the course of his official duties. Dash cam video has also been known to disappear in controversial cases. If the officer decides he has not been sufficiently informed, it’s the CCW holder’s word against the officer’s.

With the state under a court order to implement a concealed-carry law, a real opportunity exists to loosen Illinois’ excessive and ineffective (see Chicago crime stats) gun laws. The bill most likely to pass is HB 997, introduced by Brandon Phelps whose district occupies the southern tip of the state. It has support from the NRA, the Illinois State Rifle Association, Guns Save Life and other state and grass-roots organizations. The Illinois Sheriffs Association has issued a statement that generally supports the bill. The Illinois Police Chiefs Association had opposed the legislation but changed their position to neutral in 2011 on the condition of including “duty to inform” language. This year the Chiefs Association has given grudging support. And thus, the debate is framed.

Neutralizing the chiefs’ opposition was critical in 2011, but in 2013 some Illinois legislature watchers say the court order and changing attitudes among African-American legislators who have traditionally opposed gun rights make this a new political climate. According to some, the bill can pass over the objections of the police chiefs. My dad, Neal Knox, used to say, “I don’t mind buying an election, but I can’t afford a landslide.”

Should Illinois gun owners oppose HB 997 over the Duty to Inform language? Some in Chicago area think so. Others in the downstate (meaning anywhere outside of the Chicago metro area) believe they can accept the DTI language and attack it later. I claim no expertise in the ways of Illinois politics. I also grant that if the perfect becomes the enemy of the good, nothing will happen. The salami can be sliced, but stacked. We have lost our gun rights in places like Illinois gradually over a long time. We should expect to regain them in the same fashion.

Nonetheless, Duty to Inform language is guaranteed to generate problems for CCW licensees. If the language can come out before the law is passed, it will save a lot of trouble and maybe some lives.

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