The City Council's police and fire committee recessed Monday morning without considering an item quietly added to its agenda last Friday afternoon: the city's response to the Supreme Court ruling knocking out Chicago's ban on handguns.
The agenda item is described as "an ordinance introduced by the Honorable Mayor Richard M. Daley, at the request of the Corporation Counsel, concerning firearm regulation." Chairman Anthony Beale said he'll reconvene the committee Tuesday at 1 p.m. but wouldn't offer any hints about what will be in the ordinance.
"There's a 200-page document that's been submitted," he said, referring to the court's decision. "It's going to take us a little time to go through the 200 pages, but I assure you that we will have something tomorrow in place for the [full] City Council to pass on Wednesday. We are moving aggressively and swiftly to put something in place to ensure that the residents of the city of Chicago are protected."
"We're going through the 200 pages to make sure that whatever we pass will hold up to the Supreme Court," he continued. "I don't want to speak on what we're looking at or what we're not looking at."
If this sounds a lot like the company/Daley administration line, that's because it is.
Mayor Daley is scheduled to hold a press conference at 1 p.m. today, but in recent weeks he's argued that the city can and must continue to restrict access to guns regardless of the court's decision. As he put it at a presser last month:
"The access to guns in America, the access today, it’s higher than any period of time in America. And guns on the street will kill people. It’s the access to guns that you have in America.... Access to guns in America will destroy America faster than any war in America."
He's also characterized the NRA and gun manufacturers as among the most powerful and malignant social forces in the nation. “They’re bigger than the oil industry, bigger than the gas industry, bigger than Google, bigger than President Obama and the rest of them."
But not every local pol is buying his argument that guns are the sole reason for Chicago's recurring problems with violence.
Last week state reps John Fritchey and La Shawn Ford renewed their call for a shift in strategies to combat the bloodshed. As an NRA activist later pointed out to me, Ford sounded less like a Chicago Democrat than one of their spokespeople when he said, “We can’t continue to focus on guns. It’s not guns causing all the crime and violence in our communities. We can’t just focus on more gun legislation in Springfield. We have to work on keeping these communities clean and fighting crime. People are stabbing people, people are beating people with baseball bats. This is about more than guns.”
And this morning 20th Ward alderman Willie Cochran, a member of the police and fire committee and a former cop himself, reiterated the point when I asked him about the Supreme Court ruling. "These guns and the violent use of these guns today is not about the guns themselves," he said. "It's about the hand that it's in and the lack of knowledge and respect that they have for the gun and for the people that they're hurting with the guns."
Mayor Daley and corporation counsel Mara Georges have fretted for years about what the end of the handgun ban will mean for police officers, firefighters, paramedics, and other "first responders" to the scenes of emergencies—what will happen when they have to show up to a home not knowing if someone there is armed?
Cochran doesn't think much will change. "Guns are already in the home," Cochran said. "This just gives us an opportunity to have people register those guns and take what is already an issue and put it on the front burner."
What's important is to ensure that people have the proper training to use guns, he said. "I think the mayor's idea of having people meet certain qualification standards is a good idea. I think the more that we train people about guns, the better off we are—the value of guns and what they should be used for. Personally, my dad started teaching me about guns when I was about 5 years old. He was a gun owner—he liked to hunt—and he taught me how to shoot and respect a weapon."
"Just like we educate people on the A-B-Cs, we also have a responsibility to change our culture as far as the use of guns is concerned," he continued. "You can go to Arizona, you can go to Texas, and you see people walking around with their six-shooters on, and it's a phenomenon that just exists."