Bucking a national trend toward more tolerance for firearms, Chicago today begins enforcing the toughest gun law in the nation -- and it's already under fire.
Two lawsuits have already been filed against the ordinance, which bans gun shops in the city and limits permit holders to one ready-to-fire weapon inside the home -- excluding the porch, the garage or the yard. People are allowed to own more guns, but they cannot be loaded.
Legal experts say the law is not bulletproof and could be headed toward the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in June that Americans have the right to possess handguns for self-defense. That ruling made the Chicago's existing gun ban, which had been in effect for 28 years, unenforceable. In its place Mayor Richard M. Daley and the City Council created the new law that goes into effect today.
"This law is most vulnerable on the broad general ban on carrying guns in public," said Eugene Kontorovich, assistant professor at Northwestern University Law School. "The Second Amendment allows Americans to 'keep and bear arms' and 'bear' means carry and 'arms' means more than one. It's not about being able to defend your home, it's about being able to defend yourself. It seems the city misread 'to keep and bear arms' as 'to keep arm.'"
Chicago City Law Department spokeswoman Jennifer Hoyle said the Supreme Court allowed for "reasonable restrictions" and that is exactly what the local law provides. "We think it's constitutional and there is nothing to stop us from enforcing it. We are allowing people to keep a handgun in their home for self defense. The definition of a home is the livable section of the property, not the back yard or the porch or the garage. Our concern is the safety of the general public who can be more exposed in those areas."
Today the Chicago Police Department will begin detailing on its website steps to becoming a legal gun owner. The first step is to get a permit, which requires range and classroom training, decent eyesight, a fingerprint background check and other elements. Once the permit is obtained, all guns must be registered. That includes the single loaded gun in the house, as well as an unlimited supply of unloaded rifles and shotguns allowed under the law. Residents are allowed to buy one additional handgun every month but are prohibited from owning assault weapons, sawed-off shotguns, laser sites, mufflers and other accessories, Hoyle said.
"Only one gun can be ready to use at a moment's notice," said Hoyle. "All the others need to be in something like a lockbox."
Both lawsuits challenging the gun law were filed in federal court. One was filed on behalf of Joe Franzese, who owns one gun store in the northern suburbs and wants to open another in Chicago, and said Mayor Daley is infringing on citizens' rights. The other lawsuit was filed by four individuals who say they need guns for protection including a financial trader, an educator who lives near a high-crime neighborhood, a veterinarian who owns an animal clinic and her husband, who's self-employed in the aircraft restoration business.