Supreme Court Weighs Chicago's Strict Gun Ban

Justices consider whether Second Amendment gives a right to have a gun at home.

February 8, 2010, 4:33 PM

WASHINGTON, March 2, 2010— -- Otis McDonald, 76, is afraid for his life in his crime-saturated Chicago neighborhood and he is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn his city's strict ban on handguns in the home.

"In my home, this is the only time I worry," McDonald said. "There's more guns coming into this city than the police can take away from them. So if I've got a gun, and if others have guns in their homes to protect themselves, then that's one thing that police would have to worry about less."

For nearly 30 years, Chicago has banned possession of handguns and automatic weapons inside city limits, one of the most stringent gun laws in the country.

McDonald's appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court comes a year and a half after the Court stunned gun-control advocates in another case, declaring for the first time that the Constitution protects an individual's right to own a gun in his or her home.

But that ruling -- District of Columbia v. Heller -- struck down only the Washington, D.C., gun ban.

McDonald is asking the justices to have the Heller ruling applied in cities and states across the country.

"It makes me feel like the city cares more for the thugs than they do me, and I'm the one paying taxes," McDonald said of being barred from owning a gun in his own house.

The National Rifle Association agrees. "The Heller case had only to do with federal enclaves," Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, said. "This has to do with whether the freedom applies to every American in every city and town all over our country."

In 1982, Chicago imposed the strict gun ordinance to help combat rampant gang and firearm violence that plagued the city.

In court papers, lawyers for the city of Chicago pointed out that 402 of the 412 firearm homicides occurred with the use of handguns in 2008.

"Handguns are used to kill in the United States more than all other weapons, firearms and otherwise, combined," Chicago Corporation Counsel Mara S. Georges wrote.

She argued that the Court should leave it up to the states and cities to regulate handguns.

"The genius of our federal system ordinarily leaves this type of social problem to be worked out by state and local governments, without a nationally imposed solution excluding one choice or the other," Georges wrote.

Does Chicago Case Threaten Other Gun Laws?

Gun-control advocates, having accepted a setback in Heller, are looking ahead, hoping that courts won't begin to chip away at gun restrictions.

"The Court made it very clear that the Second Amendment right [to own a gun] is not unlimited and that there can be restrictions on who gets guns, where they take guns, what kind of guns they get, and how they are carried," Paul Helmke of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence said.

Helmke and other advocates say they were heartened by Justice Antonin Scalia's statement that the Court's ruling in Heller "should not be taken to cast doubt on long-standing prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms."

But McDonald is only looking as far as his own Morgan Park neighborhood and his ability to sleep well at night.

"I'm awakened all times of nights, with all kinds of noises," he said. "And, I say, well, you know they come in here, break the door open, I can't do nothing."

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