Updated: February 9, 2014 6:24AM
Here’s the bottom line on guns in Chicago: We have far too many gun deaths, gun injuries and gun crimes, and we can’t rest until we get those numbers down substantially.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Edmond E. Chang shot down the city’s ban on firearms sales, which the city had portrayed as an important tool for protecting citizens. Given the U.S. Supreme Court’s evolving interpretation of the Second Amendment, Chang’s ruling is not surprising, though he stayed his ruling to give the city a chance to appeal. A city spokesman said Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants “all options” to be considered for better regulating gun sales.
If Chicago doesn’t appeal Chang’s ruling — or if its appeal fails — constitutional experts say the city can still fashion a new, narrowly drawn law regulating gun sales, perhaps limiting the areas of the city where guns can be sold. But frankly, the city is limited in what it can do. The real onus, more than ever, is on the federal government to impose the most potentially effective — and constitutional — regulations on guns, including universal background checks and the prevention of straw gun purchases. Those two reforms alone, doing much to stem the flow of out-of-state guns into hands of Chicago gangs, could go a long way toward preventing gun violence.
In an October meeting with the Sun-Times Editorial Board, Emanuel said, “There is a lot that needs to be fixed specifically on guns, both on the prosecutorial side, the gun prevention side and other aspects.”
Three years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Chicago ban on owning guns. Last year, a federal appeals court overturned Illinois’ ban on the carrying of concealed firearms. On Monday — the first full day for online concealed-carry applications — Illinoisans filed 4,500 requests for permits. Three thousand of those requests were filed by residents of Cook County.
Under the new law, police have the right to object to individuals whose backgrounds suggest they should not have a concealed-carry permit even if they meet the legal requirements. But Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said he is being denied an important tool he needs to make that determination. State Police say he can’t use LEADS, an electronic database that lists past arrests, partly because the FBI does not recognize concealed-carry permits as a criminal justice purpose. Without access to LEADS, the sheriff’s office can’t quickly identify who has been arrested for serious crimes, and the office will be overwhelmed by the number of applications, Dart said. That loophole needs to be fixed.
Other issues also will be brought up in the Legislature to tighten — or loosen — state gun laws. For example, state Sen. Dan Kotowski, D-Park Ridge, has introduced an amendment that would bar concealed firearms from buildings and parking lots under the control of places of ownership. When those measures are debated, the safety of citizens should be the paramount concern.
Existing gun laws aren’t stopping the flow of illegal guns, and tossing out Chicago’s ban on gun sales won’t help. Chicago Law Department spokesman Roderick Drew said police recover more illegal guns here than in any city in the country because of lax federal and state laws on straw purchasing and gun transfers. Shootings, many of them fatal, are a daily occurrence.
But a story Saturday in the New York Times hints it won’t be easy to negotiate sensible solutions. The newspaper reported pre-eminent gun writer Dick Metcalf from Downstate Barry was let go from the magazine he wrote for, his television show was pulled off the air and he even received death threats after he mildly suggested that all constitutional rights, including gun ownership, come with some restrictions.
In a telling quote, Richard Venola, a former editor of Guns & Ammo magazine, said, “We are locked in a struggle with powerful forces in this country who will do anything to destroy the Second Amendment. The time for ceding some rational points is gone.”
Got that? How pathetic. God forbid anybody should cede a “rational point” that might actually reduce gun violence without doing violence to the Second Amendment.