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Mayor determined to preserve city gun law despite judge’s ruling

File photo. | John H. White~Chicago Sun-Times.

File photo. | John H. White~Chicago Sun-Times.

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Updated: July 23, 2012 7:17AM

Calling tougher gun laws pivotal to Chicago’s crime-fighting strategy, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Wednesday he would do whatever it takes to protect the legal integrity of the city’s firearms ordinance, a portion of which was overturned by a federal judge.

Emanuel refused to say whether he would appeal U.S. District Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan’s ruling, or simply rewrite the overturned section used to deny a man a gun permit because of a prior misdemeanor conviction.

The firearms ordinance was rushed into place in 2010 after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Chicago’s 28-year-old handgun ban. And the mayor noted that Der-Yeghiayan had left it largely “intact.”

Emanuel said he would await Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton’s recommendation before deciding which way to go. But the mayor said he is determined to preserve the ordinance one way or another.

“The reason we have gun laws — the reason I’m trying to also pass tougher gun laws down in Springfield — is because it’s an essential complement to your overall crime strategy,” Emanuel said at an unrelated news conference.

“And we will adjust. I’m waiting for Steve’s comments, but we will do whatever we need to do to continue to pursue getting guns off our streets and out of the hands of gang-bangers and drug dealers.”

The mayor noted that the number of guns confiscated by Chicago Police is up about seven percent this year. The city’s homicide rate has spiked 35 percent during the same period while shootings are up roughly 11 percent.

But, he said, “You cannot have just more cops on the street. It’s part of a comprehensive strategy you’ve heard me talk about. … Our crime strategy is putting more police on the street and getting kids, guns and drugs off the street.”

In a 30-page ruling issued Wednesday, Der-Yeghiayan took aim at the secion of the ordinance used to deny Shawn Gowder a permit because of a prior misdemeanor conviction.

He called that section “unconstitutionally void for vagueness,” and said it violated Gowder’s right to keep and bear arms under the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Gowder had filed a federal lawsuit challenging a portion of the ordinance that bars a person from obtaining a Chicago firearm permit if that person has been convicted “in any jurisdiction” of an “unlawful use of a weapon that is a firearm.” Under Chicago municipal code, it is unlawful for someone to possess a firearm without a Chicago firearm permit.

In Gowder’s case, he had been convicted in Illinois in 1995 with the unlawful use of a weapon. He was not accused of discharging a weapon illegally, however, but only with the possession of a firearm. At the time, the charge was a felony. But that law was challenged, according to the federal court opinion, and Gowder’s conviction was downgraded to a misdemeanor.

“The only thing that Mr. Gowder did was to own a firearm as he was entitled to do under the Second Amendment. As a result of that he was treated as a criminal by the City of Chicago when all he did was exercise his fundamental Second Amendment rights,” said his attorney, Stephen A. Kolodziej.

“We think the City of Chicago’s actions in denying Mr. Gowder a firearm permit were punitive and draconian as well as violative of his Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.”

Gowder does have an Illinois Firearm Owner’s Identification Card, but the City of Chicago denied a local permit, citing his conviction.

“There is something incongruent about a nonviolent person, who is not a felon, but who is convicted of a misdemeanor offense of simple possession of a firearm, being forever barred from exercising his constitutional right to defend himself in his own home in Chicago against felons or violent criminals,” Der-Yeghiayan wrote. “The same constitution that protects people’s right to bear arms prohibits this type of indiscriminate and arbitrary governmental regulation.”

In court filings, the city had urged Der-Yeghiayan to rule against Gowder, citing studies that those convicted of misdemeanor crimes were 7.5 times more like to commit a subsequent offense.

Earlier this year, Emanuel proposed that Illinois handgun owners be required to register their weapons with the state — and pay a $65-per-gun registration fee — to arm police with the information they need to solve crimes and reduce illegal firearms transfers.

The legislation went nowhere, just as Mayor Richard M. Daley’s gun proposals did. It was viewed as an effort to counter the National Rifle Association’s push for concealed carry legislation. Illinois remains the only state in the nation that does not allow residents to carry concealed weapons.

Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, denounced Emanuel’s proposal to impose a per-handgun registration fee as “preposterous” and illegal.

“It’s a civil right [to own a gun]. You don’t have to pay for a civil right. It’s like a poll tax,” he said. “He’s trying to limit handguns for criminals, and he’s attacking law abiding citizens. There are 1.4 million firearms owners in this state, and he wants to tax them all $65. It’s crazy,” Pearson said at the time.

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