On Otis McDonald and his lawsuit challenging Chicago’s 1982 handgun ban

Otis McDonald sued for the right to own a handgun in Chicago, and the Supreme Court ruled in his favor on June 28. Read his story, from our archives

(page 1 of 2)

Meet the plaintiffs: These four Chicago residents (from left), Adam Orlov, David and Colleen Lawson, and Otis McDonald, have sued to repeal the city’s ban on handgun possession. Their case will be heard by the Supreme Court in February.
Meet the plaintiffs: These four Chicago residents (from left), Adam Orlov, David and Colleen Lawson, and Otis McDonald, have sued to repeal the city’s ban on handgun possession. Their case will be heard by the Supreme Court in February.

 

When Otis McDonald bought his house in Morgan Park in 1971, the purchase represented a generational milestone of sorts: One of 12 children born to Louisiana sharecroppers, McDonald left the farm at 17 to find work in the big city, and, after struggling for many years in low-paying seasonal jobs, was hired as a janitor by the University of Chicago in the early sixties. He eventually earned a coveted skilled union position as a building-maintenance engineer, a job he kept until he retired.

Today McDonald, a bright-eyed and trim 76-year-old grandfather, considers himself one of few defenders of peace and security on the leafy, house-lined street where three of his children grew up and played. The gangbangers and drug dealers have taken over, he says. “You go out there in the morning and pick up bottles and things on the lawn,” he explains, describing events of the past summer. “They’re out there at three in the morning, in the middle of the street, drinking and smoking their stuff. They throw stuff all over your lawn, and you can’t say anything, because they might up and shoot you.” McDonald says his house has been broken into three times and his garage twice—most recently, early one morning this past August by a man McDonald recognized from around the neighborhood. Does McDonald think the robber planned to sell the stolen possessions for drugs? “Of course, of course,” he says matter-of-factly.

Otis McDonald wants a handgun—a pistol to carry around the house and keep on his bedside table at night. An avid hunter, he has two shotguns in the house, but he says those weapons are too unwieldy to use when facing a midnight intruder. More to the point, McDonald believes that if Chicago residents were allowed to keep handguns in their homes, criminals would think twice before breaking in—a fairly common rationale among gun-rights supporters. McDonald, however, is no ordinary gun-rights supporter: In 2008, he joined three other residents in a lawsuit to get rid of the city’s handgun ban, the most restrictive gun law in the country and probably the most far-reaching because of Chicago’s size.

Fulfilling a longtime goal of the gun lobby, two years ago the Supreme Court upended a 70-year-old precedent and ruled that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual the right to own a handgun—at least in Washington, D.C., and other areas under federal jurisdiction. Now McDonald v. City of Chicago, to be argued in February, will determine if the ruling applies to the states and cities. If Chicago’s law falls, will the city be flooded with guns and a resulting wave of deadly shootouts? No one really thinks so—but the ramifications may be far-reaching in other important ways.

* * *

Photography by Tom Maday

 

Share

Advertisement

comments
5 years ago
Posted by dm60462

I'm having a hard time reading this. I'm trying to hold the text steady, but the wording keeps making it tilt off to the left.

5 years ago
Posted by K-Romulus

Actually, if you read the Heller decision, you will see that the Court described how its holding is consistent with the "70 year old precedent" of US v. Miller. The Miller holding was that the 2d Amendment only protected private ownership of firearms that were suitable for use in a militia, and NOT that "service in the militia" is protected by the 2d Amendment. Heller explained that pistols WERE part of the militia armament, and thus protected.

5 years ago
Posted by Tench Coxe

The statement that the Supreme Court's position, "as written in a 1939 decision, was that the 'keep and bear arms' language of the Second Amendment protected only the right of states to raise armed militias," is factually incorrect.

There has been much debate over the meaning of the Miller decision. But if you actually read it and pay careful attention to what it actually says, the court did not find that the 2A protects only the right of states. It found that the only types of "arms" protected by the 2A were those that were suitable for use by a militia. That does not mean that it is not an individual right. In fact, it is clear that the opinion did, in fact, recognize that the right was individual - the question was whether the right included the right to own a sawed-off shotgun. The court ruled that there had been no evidence proferred showing that a short-barreled shotgun was a type of "arms" typically useful or used by a militia. This was because of the unfortunate fact that the defendant Miller's counsel never responded with a brief and did not show up to argue the case, so the court had only the government's side to go by. The reality is that smooth-bore, shotgun-type firearms have long been used in military actions - see the WWI trench guns, and blunderbusses before that.

The spin on this article is evident.

5 years ago
Posted by itakethetrain

The bulk of Americans aren't even responsible enough or emotionally mature enough to operate a car, much less a gun. Considering how much violence we see from drivers throwing temper tantrums in their cars, I hate to see what would happen if all these people were given even more power to cause others harm.

The 2nd Amendment does not say "unlimited access to all arms," and it is not intended to be used against other citizens. Access to arms has to be limited, as everyone agrees -- which is why chemical weapons and nuclear weapons are not available for everyone. The 2nd Amendment is intended for militias -- for the public to hold their government accountable. Nothing in Chicago's handgun ban prevents Chicagoans from owning a weapon that could be used in a militia -- it just doesn't let them own any weapon they want, and for good reason, just like not every American can go out and buy a nuclear weapon.

5 years ago
Posted by Xrlq

What Tench Coxe said. The claim that Miller endorsed the "collective rights" model of the Second Amendment is pure fantasy. If the Supreme Court had indeed ruled that way in Miller, the lower courts in Emerson and Heller would have been bound by that precedent and could not have ruled as they did.

5 years ago
Posted by mjdavis

Although you state in passing that this case is really about the incorporation theory of the 14th Amendment, you leave that theory and its application completely unexplored. Your focus on "theatrics" is mildly interesting but does nothing to tell your readers what the case is all about. For example, it would be interesting to understand how the city will argue that the 2nd Amendment (in other words, the amendment to the Constitution deemed important enough to be written second of ten) is not a fundamental right. Your insinuation that the plaintiffs' attorneys, by using a sociological plaintiff selection technique pioneered by Thurgood Marshall, are somehow guilty of subterfuge and therefore not worthy, misses the point that there is a valid constitutional question here, no matter how it has come before the Court. Your treatment did little to further your readers' understanding of the case.

And then there's your misinterpretation of Miller, as noted by others here...

5 years ago
Posted by jonbouy00

The Illinois Consititution says, "the right of the individual citizen to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed". So why is this even a discussion? There are many states (47 that have concealed carry laws of some sort, some claim 48 but Hawaii is a SHALL issue state and has not for a very long time) all of which have had reduced crime since the implementation of a CCW law. Shootouts, wide spread crime and the claims of road rage, just do not happen. Is it perfect? Name something that is. Police and other law officials are often arrested for an assortment of violent crimes. In my home town recently a chief was arrested and convicted of rape and attempted rape. Should he had the gun he carried? Nothing is perfect. Including the ridiculous Chicago handgun ban that does not let honest people, never convicted of a felony, to defend themselves in their OWN home. It assures that only the criminals and Chicago cronies have access to firearms. It is an infingement on the Illinois Consititution, the Second Amendment and humanity in general to condemn innocent law-abiding people to be maimed, killed, raped and brutalized by recedivistic career criminals at the ridiculous Chicago crime rate.

5 years ago
Posted by Pourshot

What do you mean... "In Their Sights"?

Are you not concerned with the rights that God gave you?

Damn, if I lived there and wrote this I would have said "In OUR Sights" because I love ALL my freedoms.

Matter of fact, if you ever get to Virginia, take my class... see www.4permits.com.

5 years ago
Posted by jonbouy00

In the previous I, "mis-spoke". Hawaii is a, MAY issue state. I was trying to say, is not a shall issue state.

5 years ago
Posted by Jim Longley

ITakethetrain

I am a part of a subset of the "everyone" that you state agrees above, and I don't agree.

And I have serious questions about your statement "Nothing in Chicago's handgun ban prevents Chicagoans from owning a weapon that could be used in a militia"

If the militia uses handguns, which I am sure more people would agree with than your "everyone", how does banning them, as you acknowledge Chicago does, not prevent Chicagoans from owning a weapons that could be used in a militia?

5 years ago
Posted by ghalesan

I have been following the gun control mess for many years. I am 79 and used to live near Chicago. When I was in school we were taught the U S Constitution was the law of the land !!!

How can anyone say the Heller case only applies to Wash DC and federal lands ???

5 years ago
Posted by Xrlq

Jonbouy00, the reason Chicago's gun ban survives under the state constitution is that the Quilici court made the same judicial mincemeat of the Illinois Constitution as it made of the federal one. There, the excuse was that the right in question, while unambiguously individual, was "subject only to the police power," a phrase the court effectively interpreted to mean "government shall not infringe this right unless it wants to."

5 years ago
Posted by Michael...

The bulk of Americans aren't even responsible enough or emotionally mature enough to operate a car, much less a gun. Considering how much violence we see from drivers throwing temper tantrums in their cars, I hate to see what would happen if all these people were given even more power to cause others harm.

Using an anecdotal exaggeration to bolster an argument can be plenty effective when you have no other rhetorical leg to stand on, but you might want to consider employing one slightly more current than the road rage panic of the nineties that never actually amounted to anything.

5 years ago
Posted by Michael...

(To clarify, I intended the first paragraph of my previous post to be italicized as to indicate a quotation.)

5 years ago
Posted by Rehabber

48 of the 50 states allow concealed carry after the applicant is screened and tested. Right now, in Illinois the only people carrying guns are the police and the criminals. And by the way, the 48 states that do allow concealed carry are not having shoot outs in the streets.
Armed, the victim can be the first responder instead of merely being the subject of a police report.

4 years ago
Posted by USMC111

The first time my father told me to do when I moved out his house was to buy a gun. It is sad to say I had to use my hand gun to protect my family more then one time. Yes I would like to see an end to the gun ban in Chicago, but before you blame the mayor, blame the Otis McDonald's who allowed this gun ban to become law. The Supreme Court, the mayor, the aldermen and Jesse Jackson have personal protection, while the Otis McDonald's supported them. To the Otis McDonald's stop voting for people who fail to have your best interest at heart. Not only wait on the Supreme Court ruling, but support pro-gun aldermen.

4 years ago
Posted by belladog

The idea that a shotgun is "too unwieldy to use when facing a midnight intruder" is one of the most laughable arguments for owning a handgun, regardless of which side of this debate you're on. Shotguns are plenty good for defending your home.

Heck, you don't even have to fire your shotgun at an intruder: most boneheaded criminals would soil their drawers merely at the sound of that big ol' weapon getting cocked.

4 years ago
Posted by JohnnyBGoode

For any of you thinking law abiding citizens should not have the right to bear arms to protect themselves please provide your home address so I can ship you a yard sign with the following information:

"PUBLIC NOTICE, This household does not believe in gun rights and is not currently protected by a firearm. We do not want any protection from the neighbors either. We are perfectly safe from break-ins and home invasion and we are fully confident that if a break-in does happen, the policy will get here in plenty of time to stop the criminal from hurting us or taking our property"

I fully support your right to your opinions, and want to make sure you express it properly.

4 years ago
Posted by chicagoboy

Hey slavery used to be legal in this country..but we ended up realizing it was unfair and cruel....I think one day we will wake up and realize that guns are not only ruining this country they are also a national shame!

My opinion....

but I don't see many mass "beatings or stabbings" at offices schools and post offices?? Guns are DANGEROUS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

4 years ago
Posted by JohnnyBGoode

Hey chicagoboy, what is your home address?

I want to make sure you get a sign.

Submit your comment