Monday, June 28, 2010

Chicago's Handgun Ban

Today the U.S. Supreme Court held the city of Chicago's handgun ban is unlawful. I haven't read the 200 + page decision nor will I. It seems no one is surprised by the court's decision. But I need to remind you, it wasn't a unanimous decision. In fact it was 5-4 split. So while most thought this was a no-brainer, 4 sitting Supreme Court justices thought otherwise.

This was a very legally complicated case, but a similar case was decided recently. In Heller, a petitioner challenged the Washington D.C. handgun ban. Remember, Washington D.C. isn't a state, thus Federal Law rules supreme in D.C.

The Heller court held that the D.C. handgun ban violated the Federal 2nd Amendment and was unlawful. Most people think, and incorrectly so, that the Amendments in the U.S. Constitution's Bill of Rights have always applied to every American at all times. I know I used to. But this is false.

It wasn't until the 14th Amendment was passed that most of the bill of rights were made available to the states. Prior to McDonald v. City of Chicago, it wasn't known whether the 2nd Amendment was applicable to the States. Or to put it another way, whether the 2nd Amendment could be held against the states.

The Supreme Court's majority thinks it is and, therefore, the local handgun ban is unlawful, just as the Washington D.C. version was.

I predicted, and incorrectly, that the Supreme Court would uphold the ban by ruling the Federal 2nd Amendment couldn't be held against the states. I thought they would punt the issue and cite the long history of Federalism. What I mean is that I thought the court would rule that this is a state issue and the Federal 2nd Amendment didn't apply.

Clearly the states can create and enforce their own gun laws. In some states, concealed carry permits can be obtained. Illinois is not one of them. In some states, hunting with rifles is allowed. Illinois is also not one of them. And I know laws differ across the country with respect to assault rifles and other quasi-military weapons.

So the state have some say, but apparently not the ultimate say, at least in terms of banning one type of weapon in favor of another.

As I wrote, I have not read the decision, so I cannot offer comment on how the court reached its decision. I chose to write about it because I consider this whole issue to be an entire waste of time, energy, and money.

The handgun ban was put into effect in the early 1980's. It makes it illegal to own a handgun within the city boundaries. In other words, it could be legally purchased but not legally owned.

In Illinois, a Firearms Owner's Identification Card (FOID) has to be obtained before a resident can legally purchase a firearm of any kind or ammunition. FOID cards are issued by the State Police after a criminal background check.

Thus, a Chicago resident with a valid FOID card could buy a pistol but couldn't register it with the city of Chicago. Does this make any sense? It doesn't to me. Violation of this city ordinance is only a misdemeanor. Most people don't know this. And it's almost never enforced. Most people don't know this either.

Here is why the ordinance is almost never enforced: most people caught with a handgun are either convicted felons or they get caught with the pistol outside of the home. In either case, it's a state felony.

The handgun ban didn't criminalize possessing a handgun outside of the home. In most scenarios that was already illegal under state law. The state laws about how weapons must be transported are very strict. The city handgun ban had no effect on the state laws.

Did the handgun ban somehow thwart the efforts of criminals to arm themselves? Absolutely not. Since most criminals could likely not obtain a FOID card, they could never legally own or possess a firearm based on state law alone.

And again, for a would-be bad guy with no criminal background who legally purchased a pistol, possessing the weapon outside of the home would almost always be illegal. Thus, the handgun ban was meaningless in terms of curtailing street crime.

But the city handgun ban was a polarizing issue and largely misunderstood. Our local Chicago Tribune has a Breaking News section on its website. Readers can post comments about the stories. I read almost every story of violence reported, but more importantly I read many of the reader comments.

With so many shooting and murder stories making it online, the handgun ban always seems to get mentioned. And that but for the ban, lawful folks could gets guns to protect themselves against the city's street thugs. But as I have already discussed, a gun still cannot be carried outside the home under Illinois law.

Some, however, get this and instead write that we should have concealed carry permits in Illinois like they do in Texas and Oklahoma for example. Perhaps. I might have a different opinion on this idea if I lived in a neighborhood where I felt carrying a gun in my pants would make me feel safer.

But as I have written, if it gets that bad where I live, I am moving far from here. I don't think having to carry a gun for protection is much of a way to live. But I do understand that for many, they have no choice. They are stuck where they live. They are surrounded by lawless thugs who show now care for human life.

And in two instances recently, a person in such a predicament shot and killed two would-be robbers/burglars who had broken into their home. Neither man was charged with violating the handgun ordinance. And the support for both couldn't have been stronger by the online news crowd. In fact, many wrote that it was about time the residents of Chicago fought back.

Although any rhetoric I may have offered wouldn't have been as strong, I had no problem with what happened. You break into someone's private home, there is a chance you might be killed. I am cool with that. This is yet another reason I felt the handgun ordinance was simply ignorant.

Now that the handgun ban is about to be tossed out the window what's going to happen? Maybe some will seek a FOID card just to keep a pistol in the home for protection. I think more FOID card holders will purchase handguns and keep them in their homes. Maybe some will sleep better. I think a number of people who already had them anyway will register them. But I think the large majority of current pistol owners will do nothing.

But will the ban's lifting have any effect on street crime? I seriously doubt it. And that's why this has all seemed like such a waste. It really didn't matter. The purpose of the handgun ban could only have been to make Chicago appear as if it was tough on crime by implementing strict gun laws.

However, the handgun ban completely missed the mark if that was its purpose. Remember, it was during the handgun ban era that Chicago lead the nation in murders. But if I made myself clear in this writing, that shouldn't shock you since the ban was indeed meaningless on the streets.

In summary, it's still illegal to possess a gun on your person or to keep one in your car that's loaded, uncased, and immediately accessible. In other words, not one thing changed today for Chicago's streets. But, if you have a valid FOID card, soon you may keep a handgun in your home if you so choose. 

Or at least you can do so now legally.


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