by Mick Dumke
On Monday morning the U.S. Supreme Court essentially nullified Chicago’s handgun ban by overturning a lower court’s decision that had upheld it. A couple hours later Mayor Richard M. Daley held an emotional press conference in which he accused the court of being an accessory to street violence, vowed to continue finding ways to restrict access to guns in Chicago, and promised that the City Council would vote on new gun regulations in the next couple days—even though his administration has yet to share the new legislation with aldermen or the public.
Oh, and one other thing: Daley also happened to mention that police and prosecutors almost never charge anyone with violating the gun ban anyway.
The mayor, surrounded by city officials and parents whose children have been killed by gun violence, said he was “disappointed” by the 5-4 ruling. He noted that while it technically didn’t strike down Chicago’s gun law, “it is clear that such a provision will ultimately be struck down.” For now, he said, the city’s gun ban is in place but is “unenforceable.”
“So we’re working to rewrite our ordinance in a reasonable and responsible way to protect 2nd Amendment rights and protect Chicagoans from gun violence,” he said. “We’ll publicly propose our new ordinance soon.”
Soon being tomorrow, according to Ninth Ward alderman Anthony Beale, the mayor’s handpicked chairman of the council’s police and fire committee. Earlier in the day Beale said the committee would meet Tuesday afternoon to take up the ordinance, but he wouldn’t say what will be in it.
At the presser, corporation counsel Mara Georges would only add that new legislation would be introduced to the City Council “on an expedited basis.”
The Daley administration has a history of pushing favored legislation through the council without leaving much time for debate, and the mayor wouldn’t say if any aldermen have yet seen the legislation they’re expected to vote on at the full council meeting Wednesday. “We’ll be talking to them again this week, and we talked to a number of them last week,” he said.
Neither Georges nor Daley would discuss what exactly the new legislation will include. The mayor said they want to create protections for first responders like police, firefighters, and paramedics but declined to say what those protections might be.
Earlier in the day, 20th Ward alderman Willie Cochran, a former cop, downplayed the idea that first responders are suddenly facing new threats. Even with the ban in place, “guns are already in the home,” Cochran told me.
The mayor and other top city officials were no more forthcoming about how the ban had been used by law enforcement even before the court’s decision Monday. When several reporters asked how many people have been charged with violating the ban, Georges said she didn’t know: “I don’t have numbers with me.”
Daley then called on police superintendent Jody Weis to respond. He was no better informed. “We make arrests every day in terms of unlawful use of a weapon, and we use both federal statutes and state statues,” Weis said.
What about the city ordinance? Weis said he didn’t know how many people have been charged with violating Chicago’s law. “I don’t have that information for you,” he said.
Perhaps that’s because it’s not clear if it ever happens. Last week I asked the police department’s news affairs division if they had decided to bring any charges against the elderly west-side man who’d shot and killed an armed intruder in May. I was told that police were still investigating the case. I asked how many people had been charged with violating the city’s handgun ban in 2009 and 2010. I was told I had to submit a freedom of information request. I did. The department has a week to respond; so far I haven’t heard anything.
Georges said it was her understanding that prosecutors usually skip Chicago’s ordinance when they decide what to charge someone caught with a firearm in the city. “Typically the charge that will be charged will be the state charge or the federal charge, because it carries more significant penalties than the city violation.”
"That's right," Daley said, reminding reporters that he'd once been a prosecutor. “That’s what we did all the time.”
The real harm of the Supreme Court ruling, Daley said, is that it’s going to feed America's appetite for violence.
“We kill more people in American than any other nation,” he said. “We love to kill. We can kill overseas. We export more guns than anybody else and we buy more guns than anybody else. We should not be known for that.”
He said the five Supreme Court justices who voted against the ban “don’t seem to appreciate the full scope of gun violence in America and that it will continue until we understand that there are reasonable and responsible steps we can take as a nation to help end the needless gun violence and harm that irresponsible people bring on our friends and family.”
"I don't think more guns protect society," Daley said. "I just don't believe it."