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Chicago Enacts New Gun Ordinance in Wake of Supreme Court Decision

By Laura DeKoven Waxman
July 19, 2010

As has been widely reported, the Supreme Court struck down Chicagos handgun ban in a 5-4 decision June 28. In its decision in McDonald v. City of Chicago the Court held that the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates the Second Amendment, thus applying it to state and local governments and rendering Chicago’s ban on possession of handguns in the home to be unconstitutional. The Court had previously held in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment protects the right to possess a handgun in the home for the purpose of self-defense. That decision applied, however, only to the District of Columbia, which is a federal enclave. The U.S. Conference of Mayors filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in support of the City of Chicago and its handgun ban, and that brief was referenced in Justice Breyer’s dissenting opinion.

In its decision in McDonald, the Court also reaffirmed its language in Heller that the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. The Court ruled that the individual right to possess guns in the home for self-defense does not prevent elected representatives from enacting common'sense gun laws to protect communities from gun violence.

On the day the decision was handed down, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley announced, “We’re working to rewrite our ordinance in a reasonable and responsible way to protect 2nd Amendment rights and protect Chicagoans from gun violence,” and promised to propose a new ordinance soon. He did, and on July 2, the Chicago City Council adopted that ordinance on a 45-0 vote.

Commenting on the new ordinance, Daley said, “Either we enact new and reasonable handgun laws in Chicago to protect our residents – as the Council has done – or we do nothing and risk greater gun violence our streets and in our homes.” He said that the new ordinance is intended to make sure that the city is using every tool to keep guns out of the hands of gang bangers and drug dealers and their thugs who terrorize some neighborhoods; and that adults who legitimately want a gun in their homes for self-defense meet a standard of responsibility. “I understand that people need to feel safe in their homes,” he said.

Within one week after the ordinance passed, two civil complaints were filed in federal court in Chicago challenging the constitutionality of several provisions in the city’s new law. One complaint challenges a prohibition on stepping out of the home with a gun, a requirement that would-be adult gun owners get parental approval if they’re under 21, and a requirement that gun owners keep only one firearm in an operable state at any given time. Both complaints challenge the city’s ban on gun shops.

Challenges to Other Cities’ Gun Laws Expected

In his dissent in the McDonald decision, Justice John Paul Stevens warned that the Court’s decision “invites an avalanche of litigation that could mire the federal courts in fine-grained determinations about which state and local regulations comport with the Heller right—the precise contours of which are far from pellucid—under a standard of review we have not even established.”

The immediate challenge to Chicago’s new law is likely one of the first of many suits challenging cities’ gun laws. Indeed, in a statement released the day of the decision, National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said, “The NRA will work to ensure this constitutional victory is not transformed into a practical defeat by activist judges, defiant city councils, or cynical politicians who seek to pervert, reverse, or nullify the Supreme Court’s McDonald decision through Byzantine labyrinths of restrictions and regulations that render the Second Amendment inaccessible, unaffordable, or otherwise impossible to experience in a practical, reasonable way.”