The Supreme Court will decide soon if Chicago's controversial
handgun ban is unconstitutional. Both sides say such a decision
would spur a slew of challenges to gun control laws elsewhere.
Every spring, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley stands before a
table full of confiscated firearms and urges federal and state
lawmakers to pass new gun-control measures that he says will keep
streets safer. This year, there's a twist: Mayor Daley is at risk of
losing a gun-control law he already has.
By the end of June, the US Supreme Court is slated to decide
whether the city's 28-year ban on handguns - the last of its kind in
the nation - is unconstitutional. If the decision goes against
Chicago (and that's where the smart money is), the city will be
forced back to the drawing board to find a new balance between gun
rights and public safety.
More broadly, say legal experts, such a ruling will spur a slew
of challenges to other gun regulations elsewhere - from hurdles to
getting gun permits to bans on loaded weapons in public to rules
forcing gun owners to keep weapons locked at home.
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The Chicago case is pivotal to Second Amendment defenders. If it
goes their way, it will launch "a wide-open, exciting new field of
constitutional litigation," says Alan Gura, a lawyer representing
the Illinois challengers to Chicago's law. "Once this case is
decided and hopefully ... we will prevail ... [Chicago] should look
over its laws in good faith and try to see if there are any other
problematic [gun] laws that need to be revisited. If the city will
not revisit them ... I'm sure the courts will."
If, after 28 years, Chicago residents will again be able to own
handguns and to buy them in the city, what effect will that have on
The answer depends on who's talking.
City police recovered 8,259 illegal firearms in 2009 - a 12.7
percent bump from 2008, according to police department data. The
police credit the seizures for 2009's drop in gun-related homicides,
down 9 percent from the year before.
But the data are not that clear-cut. There were fewer homicides
in 2007 than in 2009, and the homicide count so far this year is on
pace to surpass last year's level.
If the Chicago ban is invalidated, "I honestly think we're going
to see business as usual," says John Worrall, a criminologist at the
University of Texas at Dallas.
Handgun bans, he says, don't work because demand for guns is so
high that plenty of people are willing to risk supplying them. Some
people go to nearby communities, where there are no bans, to buy
handguns. A more effective way to reduce crime, he says, is to weed
out gun license applicants on the basis of criminal records and to
restrict where people can use or carry handguns.
"Handgun bans target everybody, and that is the core issue," he
says. "A broad brush is being applied and is making criminals out of
law-abiding citizens. …