SPRINGFIELD — In small towns Downstate, murders may happen once every 50 to 100 years, if that frequently, and the worst crimes might be a meth lab getting busted or someone driving away from a gasoline pump without paying.
Yet, these extremely low-crime pockets of the state are precisely where people appear to be lining up the fastest to apply for state permits to carry concealed handguns, according to a Chicago Sun-Times analysis of concealed-carry applications submitted so far to the Illinois State Police.
By contrast, in Cook County, gun owners appear to be moving the slowest to apply for the concealed-carry permits, causing the state’s most populous county to rank dead last of all 102 Illinois counties on a per capita basis, data shows.
The Illinois State Police released a county-by-county breakdown Wednesday of the 23,000-plus gun owners who have applied since online enrollment began this month for permits to carry their handguns in public places.
In comparing the raw numbers to each county’s population, the Sun-Times calculated the number of concealed-carry applicants per 10,000 people, according to 2010 Census figures, and confirmed that there appears to be strong interest Downstate and in the collar counties for the permits but not so much in Cook County.
In terms of raw numbers, Cook had the most concealed-carry applications of any county, with 5,305. But weighed against its overall population of 5.19 million people, the rate of applications per 10,000 residents stood at 10.2.
But in Will County, by contrast, a resident was nearly three times more likely to apply for a concealed-carry permit than in Cook County, which had handgun bans in effect in Chicago, the county and in several municipalities until the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010 invalidated those restrictions. Separately last year, a federal appeals court ruled the state’s ban on concealed-carry was unconstitutional.
Will has 1,759 permit applications so far, more than any other collar county, with a rate of 26 applicants per 10,000 residents.
DuPage County was second among collar counties in raw numbers, with 1,589 applications so far for a rate of 17.3 concealed-carry applicants per 10,000 residents.
Lake County was third among collar counties, with 1,164 applications and 16.5 concealed-carry applicants per 10,000 residents.
But it was in tiny Cumberland County in east-central Illinois. where the per capita rate led the state, with nearly 51 out of every 10,000 residents applying for a concealed-carry permit so far. A total of 56 applicants out of 11,048 residents countywide listed Cumberland as their county of residence, the State Police data showed.
“I’m shocked about it,” said Tom Bauguss, mayor of Greenup, a farming community that is the county’s largest town with 1,516 residents.
Crime of any sort is a rarity in Cumberland County, where residents report frequent sightings of Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, who visits during Downstate hunting forays.
“In Greenup, I can’t remember the last murder,” the mayor said, adding that he doesn’t even own a gun.
State Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, was the lead architect of legislation that opened the door for concealed-carry in Illinois and is among the 23,000-plus who already have sought a concealed-carry permit this month, saying once he is licensed, he intends to carry an XDS .45-calibur handgun.
Low crime rates notwithstanding, Phelps said it’s not surprising that rural and mostly crime-free pockets Downstate might be moving more quickly for the permits than Cook County.
“I think there’s lot of people Downstate that are really pro-Second Amendment. They’ve been waiting a long time to exercise their constitutional right,” he said.
Told of Cumberland County’s top-of-the-heap status, Phelps joked, “Now, there won’t be any criminals stopping through there committing crimes any more.”
As for Cook’s tepid numbers, Phelps predicted a big increase in interest eventually. “I think people are a little scared and timid to apply. There’s still a mindset in Chicago, [where city leaders] really don’t want to allow concealed-carry. That’s why you see people scared to apply. That’s what people from Chicago have told me: They want to do it, but they’ll wait it out and see how it goes.”
But a leading gun-control advocate told the Chicago Sun-Times that there is more behind Cook’s seeming reticence to jump aboard the concealed-carry train.
“You hear time and time again stories from Downstate that it’s the one thing they’ve wanted for years and years and years,” said Colleen Daley, executive director for the Chicago-based Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence.
“But in Cook County, when we did polling, people don’t want concealed-carry,” she said. “The majority of voters weren’t in support of it. It goes to what we knew all along. It’s not on the top of the list. They don’t think carrying a gun will make them safer.”
Dave McKinney reported from Springfield. Max Rust reported from Chicago.