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Chicago City Council passes strict gun store law

Published: Wednesday, June 25, 2014 9:32 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, June 25, 2014 10:02 p.m. CDT
(Brian Jackson for Sun-Times Media)
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel listens during a Chicago City Council meeting Wednesday in Chicago. During the meeting, the council approved an ordinance that dramatically limits where gun stores can operate and requires them to videotape every purchase to prevent one person from buying a gun for another. Aldermen voted 48-0 on Wednesday for the law that would prohibit gun shops in most of Chicago.

CHICAGO – The Chicago City Council, forced by a federal judge to allow gun sales in the city, approved an ordinance Wednesday that dramatically limits where those stores can open and puts owners on alert that the city will be looking over their shoulders every time they sell a gun.

During their discussions, aldermen and Mayor Rahm Emanuel made it clear that the only reason they were voting to permit gun stores after decades of a ban was because a federal judge, following a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that invalidated the city’s handgun ban, ruled earlier this year that the ban on stores selling guns was unconstitutional.

“I really wish the Supreme Court justices who opened up the floodgates on guns had to take the calls I get at 2 o’clock in the morning from police sergeants and lieutenants about shootings,” Alderman Will Burns said before the 48-0 vote. “... I’m holding my nose and voting for it.”

Aldermen also listed some of the provisions – which will almost certainly trigger a legal challenge – including a requirement that all gun sales be videotaped, another that gun owners open their books for inspection by police, and restrictions on where the shops can go that prohibit them in 99.5 percent of the city by confining sales to specific areas and prohibiting stores within 500 feet of schools and parks.

Not surprisingly, a gun rights advocate agreed that the city that has for decades fought to keep guns out of the hands of its residents and faced repeated lawsuits over its gun laws had all but assured itself that it will face another one.

“It’s actually an ordinance to prevent gun shops,” said Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association.

Emanuel disagreed, adding that the city’s law department examined the ordinance and determined that it is on solid legal ground. The city, Emanuel said, had written a “solid, tough and enforceable ordinance.” And though he did not discuss the videotaping provision in particular, earlier he said he believes it is no different than the common practice of photographing transactions at ATMs.

The gun ordinance also addresses what police and others believe is a big reason for what they say is a flood of illegal guns into Chicago and why the city’s police officers seize more illegal guns than any police department in the United States: The sale of guns by so-called straw purchasers, who then transfer them to people who are not legally allowed to buy and possess firearms.

The ordinance, said Alderman James Balcer, “will now allow employees to be trained so they can identify straw purchasers.”

Further, the ordinance allows buyers to purchase no more than one gun every 30 days — a hindrance, supporters say, on straw purchasers who would prefer to buy several firearms at once.

If there is a lawsuit, it will keep Chicago where it has been for decades: At the center of the national debate over gun violence and gun control. After the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling on handguns, a federal appeals court in Chicago ruled in 2012 that Illinois’ last-in-the-nation ban on concealed weapons was unconstitutional. Then came the ruling by the federal judge in January, and the ordinance approved Wednesday.

But Emanuel, while not welcoming a lawsuit, suggested it was important to pass the toughest ordinance possible whether or not it prompted a legal challenge.

“You have to do what you think is right,” he said.

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