Is Chicago’s New Gun Law Legal?

BULLET PROOF: After a series of court challenges, will the city’s firearms ordinance pass legal muster?

Illustration by Dan Page

With near-daily shootings across Chicago this summer—not to mention the tragic July rampage in Aurora, Colorado—grabbing headlines recently, guns and gun laws are top of mind. And as it happens, just around the time of the multiplex massacre, Chicago aldermen had begun to redraft the city’s firearms ordinance.

As you may know, the city outlawed the sale and possession of handguns way back in 1982. (Not that the move was very successful in disarming Chicagoans: Police here confiscate an average of about 10,000 firearms each year.) In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the handgun ban, saying it was in violation of the Second Amendment.

So local legislators rewrote the law, spelling out how Chicagoans could obtain gun permits and who could get them. Soon after, the city got sued by a resident who was denied a gun permit because of a prior misdemeanor weapons conviction. That lawsuit prompted the U.S. District Court judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan to overturn a portion of the ordinance in June, ruling that the section of the law that denied gun permits to anyone already found guilty of “an unlawful use of a weapon that is a firearm” was unconstitutionally vague.

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It appeared that Chicago had been stymied yet again in its efforts to keep guns off the streets. But a close reading of Der-Yeghiayan’s decision—and a conversation with Steve Patton, the city’s corporation counsel—reveals that things are not so dire.

To hear Patton tell it, this “narrow challenge” to the law was no big deal. (The city even chose not to appeal the decision.) In the wake of the Supreme Court decision two years ago, he says, these sorts of legal disputes are to be expected as people on both sides of the issue try to interpret the subtle meanings of the ruling. Nor does he expect any significant repercussions from three pending lawsuits related to the city’s ban on gun stores, its regulation of gun ranges, and its restrictions on the number of handguns allowed in a home. (Decisions on those cases may come this year.)

In late July, the City Council amended the ordinance to eliminate any ambiguity. The revised law permanently prohibits violent felons from owning guns, and anyone convicted of committing a violent misdemeanor faces a five-year ban. People found guilty of a nonviolent misdemeanor may still apply for a gun permit.

Patton says he doesn’t anticipate any additional lawsuits, and he vows to “aggressively defend” the city’s gun law. “We’re committed to achieving the greatest extent of gun control that’s lawfully possible while still complying with the Second Amendment,” he says. “It’s something we can do in the city’s overall effort [against] gun violence. It’s a plague, and we’re doing everything we can to fight it.”

 

Illustration: Dan Page

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