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The debate over the best way to regulate handguns and the role of gun control in combating violence will probably only intensify now that Chicago has a new strict gun law on the books.
But it won't happen in the Chicago City Council, which unanimously passed the law at the urging of Mayor Richard M. Daley just one day after it was completed and less than a day after most aldermen were offered the chance to look it over.
"Yeah, it was rushed through, but that's nothing new," one alderman told me. But he wasn't particularly concerned. "The details don't really matter," he said. "I mean, it's not like we're selling off the parking meters this time."
Still, the council's 45-0 vote commits city resources to enforcing a new set of regulations on gun ownership, sales, training, and registration. Daley said it was critical to put the new law in place in the wake of the Supreme Court decision against Chicago's handgun ban. "Either we enact new and reasonable handgun laws in Chicago to protect our residents—as the Council has done—or we do nothing and risk greater gun violence in our streets and in our homes."
But several aldermen I spoke with—all of them strong supporters of gun regulation and training requirements—expressed frustration that the mayor and his aides had pushed the law through so quickly. "I didn't see any reason to do it this week," said one alderman whose ward has been hit repeatedly by violence in recent weeks. "It merits more discussion."
So why go along? "The mayor wanted this done today," he said. "And I'm trying to do something for my community."
At least some of them made time to review it before voting. One told me she'd stayed up late reading it. Another said he'd gotten up early: "I glanced it over this morning."
You, however, can peruse it at your leisure here:
The mayor has made no secret of his plans to put additional gun restrictions in place. Over the last several weeks he's talked about it in interviews and press conferences, and city officials orchestrated council hearings featuring testimony from a number of gun-control advocates.
But critics, skeptics, and even curious questioners of the mayor's strategy have been threatened, ridiculed, or simply cut out of the conversation. “I think anybody who’s fighting common-sense gun legislation will be considered the bad guy,” Alderman Anthony Beale, the mayor's handpicked chairman of the City Council's police oversight committee, told reporters a couple weeks ago. “We’re trying to make our streets safer.”
As of Wednesday aldermen hadn't laid eyes on the new ordinance. Many were unaware they were going to be asked to vote on one until informed by reporters.
And city officials were still rewriting portions of it up until Beale took it up in a police and fire committee meeting that city officials asked him to convene on Thursday. In fact, key provisions changed in the hours before the legislation was shared with aldermen. For example, corporation counsel Mara Georges had said the city would allow each adult to register no more than one handgun; by Thursday that had changed to one handgun a month because city officials were concerned the earlier idea wouldn't withstand legal scrutiny.
The final version of the ordinance draws language and ideas from gun-control laws around the country, city officials say, but they boast that it's perhaps the strongest around.
However, only a handful of aldermen attended the Thursday meeting; several who missed it said they didn't know it was being held.
The full legislation was finally shared with aldermen when city officials e-mailed them copies of it Thursday. The aldermen were told that the mayor wanted the law passed the next day but that it could always be "tweaked" or "amended" later.
The pitch was a winning one.
"You want to have something in place to protect the city," Beale told me before Friday's meeting. "And we can always amend it as we need to."
"We know we are going to have to be tweaking this ordinance," 19th Ward alderman Virginia Rugai said on the council floor during the meeting.
"I think this is a good start," added the Third Ward's Pat Dowell. "I think, however, there will be some tweaking of this ordinance that will be required after today."
"Is this a perfect ordinance? Probably not," offered Ray Suarez of the 31st Ward. "But this is a good start."
"We understand that it is ever-evolving and there will be changes and there will be modifications because that is what we do in this body," said Sixth Ward alderman Freddrenna Lyle. "It is not a perfect [ordinance]."
After the meeting the mayor insisted that aldermen had been consulted repeatedly about the new law: "We talked to a lot of aldermen. They had to have input. We made sure they had input. Some of them still have questions about additions they want."
And why did the law need to be passed this week? Why not wait even a few more days to encourage more discussion and review?
"We think it's appropriate because, like anything else, you pass an ordinance and it can always be amended," he said. "You can put an amendment on it if they want it."