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Gun ban ruling has Chicago thinking it's next

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Associated Press
June 27, 2008
— As news spread of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the handgun ban in Washington, D.C., one thing was clear in Chicago: The city’s own ban now faces a challenge as serious as any in its 26-year history.

From a visibly angry Mayor Richard Daley to a federal lawsuit filed within hours that challenges Chicago’s ban as unconstitutional, there was no mistaking that the high court’s opinion Thursday puts the city’s law squarely in the middle of a long legal fight.


While swift, the lawsuit wasn’t a surprise given that Justice Stephen Breyer, in his dissenting opinion, noted “Chicago has a law very similar to the District’s.”


“In the sense the Supreme Court has found this is an individual right to bear arms, we recognize (the ruling) is a significant threat,” said Jennifer Hoyle, spokeswoman for the city’s law department. “It gives people an opening to challenge the ordinance in a way it hasn’t been challenged in many years.”


Hoyle said the high court’s ruling that Americans can keep guns at home for self-defense does not invalidate Chicago’s law, and attorneys are confident they can successfully fight any challenge to the 1982 ordinance that makes it illegal to possess or sell handguns in the city.


“We have very strong legal arguments to make at every level of the courts,” she said, pointing out that the law establishes reasonable restrictions for densely populated urban areas.


Still, Hoyle fully expects legal challenges.


In fact, even as Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, was saying his organization may give Chicago and other Illinois municipalities time to change their laws, his group and others were filing a lawsuit against the city and Daley.


“By banning handguns, Defendants currently maintain and actively enforce a set of laws, customs, practices, and policies under color of state law which deprives individuals ... of their right to keep and bear arms,” reads the lawsuit filed by the ISRA, the Second Amendment Foundation and four individuals.


The National Rifle Association planned to file a similar complaint against San Francisco, which bars people from carrying handguns on county property, including in parks, schools and community centers.


The quick action is welcome news to gun enthusiasts, who say such laws have chipped away at their rights.


“The justices just ruled today to uphold the Constitution,” said Deb Gales, who owns Deb’s Gun Range in Hammond, Ind., just across the state line from Chicago. “We all know that these anti-gun laws have been passed to the detriment of law-abiding citizens.”


But all the talk about greater freedoms for gun owners doesn’t begin to explain what the ruling means in Chicago, which has seen a recent spate of gun violence.


Nine people were killed in 36 shootings during one weekend this spring. The next week, five people were found shot to death inside a South Side home.


Chicago Public Schools officials say 27 students have been killed by gunfire since September.


Pamela Bosley lost her 18-year-old son two years ago, when a bullet struck him as he helped a fellow student unload instruments outside a South Side Church.


“If you didn’t have the guns, we’d still have our children,” she said.


Annette Nance-Holt, whose 16-year-old son was killed on a city bus last spring when someone sprayed bullets inside it, was livid with the court’s decision.


“I’m still trying to figure out who we are more in love with, our children or our guns,” she said. “It’s crazy. I’m safer being a deer knowing people are hunting you.”


Daley was also troubled by the ruling.


He predicted more violence and higher taxes to pay for extra police if his city’s gun restrictions are lost.


“It’s a very frightening decision,” said the mayor, who routinely speaks out against guns, as he did after the fatal mass shootings at Northern Illinois University and a suburban women’s clothing store. “We believe every mayor will be outraged by this.”


District of Columbia Mayor Adrian Fenty responded with a plan to require residents of the nation’s capital to register their handguns. “More handguns in the District of Columbia will only lead to more handgun violence,” Fenty said.


San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom said the ruling “just flies in the face of reality. You just wish the Supreme Court could spend a week in public housing and then come out with this decision. It’s very easy and comfortable to stand there with security guards and metal detectors and make these decisions.”


Back in Chicago, Nance-Holt agreed.


“They live in safe neighborhoods,” she said. “They don’t have this. Until it’s their family member, they’re going to keep voting that way.”


Associated Press writers Michael Tarm, Ashley M. Heher, Jenny Song and Carla K. Johnson in Chicago, Daniel J. Yovich in Hammond, Ind., Tracie Cone in San Francisco, and Stephen Manning, Brian Westley and Mark Sherman in Washington contributed to this report.

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