(by Kim Janssen, Chicago Sun-Times) – Gun dealers can set up shop in Chicago, a federal judge has ruled – declaring the city’s ban on firearms sales unconstitutional.
U.S. District Court Judge Edmond E. Chang wrote in his opinion last week that Chicago’s 2010 ordinance* banning gun sales within city limits “goes too far in outright banning legal buyers and legal dealers from engaging in lawful acquisitions and lawful sales of firearms.” [*Ordinance is a law or regulation made by a city or town government.]
Though Chang stayed [delayed] his ruling to give the city a chance to appeal – and said a less restrictive ordinance than the unconstitutional blanket ban could yet pass muster – lawyers for the Illinois Association of Firearm Retailers were quick to predict that neighborhood gun stores could now open before the end of 2014.
The ruling is the latest in a series of legal blows to the city’s efforts to restrict gun ownership since the Supreme Court in 2010 ruled Chicago’s ban on handgun possession unconstitutional. [Also note: in December 2012 a federal appeals court struck down a ban on carrying concealed weapons in Illinois – the only state where it had remained entirely illegal.]
City Hall attorneys had argued that the gun sale ban makes it harder for criminals to get their hands on weapons.
Chang agreed the city had a “fundamental duty” to protect its citizens and acknowledged that “the stark reality facing the City each year is thousands of shooting victims and hundreds of murders committed with a gun.”
But he wrote that the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms for self-defense “must also include the right to acquire a firearm. If all cities and municipalities can prohibit gun sales and transfers within their own borders, then all gun sales and transfers may be banned across a wide swath of the country if this principle is carried forward to its natural conclusion,” he added.
The judge was unmoved by the city’s efforts to prove that the gun sale ban disproportionately affected “parochial” gang members who might find it hard to cross rival gang boundaries to travel to the suburbs, where many guns used in crime are currently purchased. [In other words, city attorneys argued that banning gun sales prevents gang members from buying guns because they won’t travel across the city out of their own neighborhoods to do so.]
Though nearly all illegally used guns were originally sold by licensed dealers, “guns used in crimes generally pass through several hands before being acquired by the ultimate perpetrator,” the judge wrote.
He suggested that “straw purchasers”* who use their clean criminal backgrounds to buy guns for criminals can be tackled by “more focused approaches, such as law enforcement operations that target dealers who would sell to straw purchasers.” [*A straw purchaser is a person who buys a firearm for a person who is unable to pass the required federal background check (a criminal)]
Nothing in his ruling stops Chicago Police from enforcing gun laws, or “prevents the City from considering other regulations – short of the complete ban – on sales and transfers of firearms to minimize the access of criminals to firearms and to track the ownership of firearms,” Chang wrote.
Any new ordinance could include zoning restrictions that limit the parts of the city in which the gun shops can do business, he suggested.
“Mayor [Rahm Emanuel] strongly disagrees with the Court’s decision and has instructed the City’s Corporation Counsel to consider all options to better regulate the sale of firearms within the city’s borders. Every year Chicago Police recover more illegal guns than officers in any city in the country, a factor of lax federal laws as well as lax laws in Illinois and surrounding states related to straw purchasing and the transfer of guns. We need stronger gun safety laws, not increased access to firearms within the city,” city law department spokesman Roderick Drewcity said in an emailed statement.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit – a handful of Chicago residents who teamed up with firearms retailers – declared themselves thrilled with the ruling. Retiree and NRA member Kenneth Pacholski, 56, was among the gun owners who filed the lawsuit. “This is a very good ruling for us – it’s all about being able to defend ourselves,” he said.
Pacholski said legal gun owners “watch who we sell guns to,” whereas criminals “are already easily buying guns that are not legal. I think this will make the city safer,” he said.
And attorney Charles J. Cooper, who represented the plaintiffs, said, “The bottom line is that the law affords citizen of Chicago and the state of Illinois the right to possess firearms to defend themselves, so it follows that they have a right to legally purchase those firearms.”
Disappointed gun control advocates say they saw the decision coming. “In a way it’s not surprising, because of the way the courts have been ruling,” said Mark Walsh, campaign director of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence.
Walsh said efforts to crack down on straw purchasers will be vital to prevent the problems activists have previously complained about at Chuck’s Guns in South Suburban Riverdale, where nearly one in five guns used in Chicago crimes between 2008 and 2012 were originally bought, according to police.
From Chicago Sun-Times. First published on Jan. 6, 2014. Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from suntimes.com.
NOTE TO STUDENTS: This is a controversial issue for many Americans. Be polite to those with whom you disagree when discussing these types of issues and always give the other person a chance to explain his/her point of view. Also, learn how to recognize when it is no longer productive to discuss an issue on which you strongly disagree.
1. a) Chicago’s Democratic city council and mayor support a ban on possession, concealed carry and gun sales within Chicago. What argument did City Hall attorneys make in defending the ban on gun sales?
b) How did they explain this argument? (see para. 8)
2. a) Judge Chang agreed that the city had a “fundamental duty” to protect its citizens and acknowledged that “the stark reality facing the City each year is thousands of shooting victims and hundreds of murders committed with a gun.”
How did he explain his decision in favor of gun sales as part of Chicagoans’ constitutional rights?
b) What do you think of the judge’s opinion?
3. What is the Second Amendment?
4. What solution did the Judge suggest the city use to deal with the problem of straw purchasers?
5. What recommendations did Judge Chang offer the city for how to work with his ruling?
6. Do you think the Judge’s solutions and recommendations are reasonable or unreasonable? Explain your answer.
7. What reason did the plaintiffs in the case give for wanting to exercise their Second Amendment rights?
8. A spokesman for Mayor Emanuel said “every year Chicago Police recover more illegal guns than officers in any city in the country. We need stronger gun safety laws, not increased access to firearms within the city.” Until recently, Chicago had a complete ban on any type of gun ownership for law-abiding citizens and has a very high crime rate.
Recently Detroit’s Police Chief James Craig said that if more citizens in Detroit were armed, criminals would think twice about attacking them. And last month Chief Craig said responsible citizens who carry concealed pistol licenses “translates into crime reduction.”
a) With whom do you agree? Why?
b) Ask a parent the same question.
THE FEDERAL COURT SYSTEM:
The Supreme Court
Created in Article III of the Constitution, the Chief Justice and eight associate justices of the Supreme Court hear and decide cases involving important questions about the interpretation and fair application of the Constitution and federal law. Cases typically come to the Supreme Court as appeals to decisions of lower federal and state courts.
The Courts of Appeals
Each of the 12 regional circuits has one U.S. court of Appeals that hears appeals to decisions of the district courts located within its circuit and appeals to decisions of federal regulatory agencies. The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has nationwide jurisdiction and hears specialized cases like patent and international trade cases. (For a Circuit Court of Appeals map, go to
The District Courts
Considered the trial courts of the federal judicial system, the 94 district courts, located within the 12 regional circuits, hear practically all cases involving federal civil and criminal laws. Decisions of the district courts are typically appealed to the district’s court of appeals.
The Bankruptcy Courts
The federal courts have jurisdiction over all bankruptcy cases. Bankruptcy cannot be filed in state courts. The primary purposes of the law of bankruptcy are: (1) to give an honest debtor a “fresh start” in life by relieving the debtor of most debts, and (2) to repay creditors in an orderly manner to the extent that the debtor has property available for payment.
Two special courts have nationwide jurisdiction over special types of cases:
- U.S. Court of International Trade – hears cases involving U.S. trade with foreign countries and customs issues
- U.S. Court of Federal Claims – considers claims for monetary damages made against the U.S. government, federal contract disputes and disputed “takings” or claiming of land by the federal government
Other special courts include:
- Court of Appeals for Veterans’ Claims
- U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces
Read what the Detroit police chief thinks about concealed carry:
–Judge Chang is a district judge on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, the trial-level court with jurisdiction over the northern counties of Illinois. Appeals from the Northern District of Illinois are taken to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. For a the Northern District of Illinois District Court website, go to ilnd.uscourts.gov/home/Judges.aspx?get=district
–For an explanation of the structure of the U.S. court system, go to usgovinfo.about.com/od/uscourtsystem/a/fedcourts.htm.
–For brief information on district court and court of appeals, go to uscourts.gov/Common/FAQS.aspx#court.
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