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Editorial: Commonsense gun laws save lives

Chicago Police forensic officers recover gun crime scene Feb. 21 South Yale.  |  Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

Chicago Police forensic officers recover the gun at a crime scene on Feb. 21 on South Yale. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 23, 2012 7:53AM

These aren’t easy days for gun control advocates.

It began in 2010, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Chicago’s 28-year-old handgun ban. The City Council immediately replaced it with a firearms ordinance that allowed for handguns in the home but heavily regulated them.

The court challenges began right away, and on Tuesday, a federal judge struck down a provision of the law that banned permits for people convicted of unlawful use of a weapon. Three other suits are pending, and a decision on a challenge to ban gun stores in the city is due any day.

Given that backdrop — a jurisprudence that clearly backs the right to have a handgun at home — a full-scale retreat might be in order, an admission that Chicagoans have no choice but to resign ourselves to a city of armed camps.

Not a chance, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his top lawyer said this week.

Citing gun laws as an “essential component” of the city’s overall crime strategy, Emanuel pledged to do everything possible to preserve the city’s gun ordinance.

We’re cheering him on. While parts of the gun ordinance may fall or need retooling, the city is on firm ground, both legally and morally, in restricting handgun use.

The law — which limits who can own a gun; requires a permit, registry of each gun and firearms training; limits the number of guns per owner, and prohibits guns outside the home — does not discourage gun owners from exercising their Second Amendment rights. It merely regulates that right in a way that helps protect Chicagoans.

The law is not, as some suggest, a sop meant to placate discouraged anti-gun activists. The city argues, convincingly, that restricting gun use, even for the most law-abiding among us, can save lives and prevent violent crime.

The ban on gun stores, for example, makes it that much harder to move guns into Chicago. Research from 2007 shows that relatively high transaction costs in Chicago’s underground market compared to other cities have acted as a limit on sales. The ban on gun shops, which can be a point of guns flowing into the hands of criminals, continues that fine tradition.

Two other provisions under attack are meant to protect innocent bystanders. One restricts handguns to the home, outlawing them on front porches and in backyards and garages in an attempt to protect passersby. Another provision says each home can have just one gun ready and operational. All other guns need to be secured.

Research suggests these commonsense regulations will prevent unnecessary death and injury. Studies show that the more guns in the home, the more likely there are to be suicides by gun, accidental shootings by — and of — children, and domestic arguments that end with somebody being shot to death. One important 1998 study found that guns in the home were four times more likely to be used in accidents than in self-defense.

We are under no illusions that handgun regulation will make a big dent in Chicago’s gun violence problem. Chicago once had a gun ban and that failed to stop or curb the shootings in our streets.

But easily available guns help make today’s violence possible.

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