After court ruling, towns rush to repeal gun bans

July 30, 2008 6:53:31 AM PDT
In 1981, this quiet northern Chicago suburb made history by becoming the first municipality in the nation to ban the possession of handguns. Twenty-seven years later, Morton Grove has repealed its law, bowing to a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June that affirmed homeowners' right to keep guns for self-defense.

It's one of several Illinois communities -- reluctant to spend money on legal fights -- rushing to repeal their gun bans after the court struck down a Washington, D.C., ban, even as cities such as Chicago and San Francisco stand firm.

Mayor Richard Krier acknowledges Morton Grove's place in history, but said that didn't affect the village board's 5-1 decision Monday to amend its ordinance to allow the possession of handguns. The village still bans the sale of guns.

"There hasn't been any pressure" to keep the ban, Krier said, noting that the village's ordinance has been under scrutiny since the Supreme Court agreed to hear the Washington case. He also pointed out that the mostly residential village has never had a big problem with gun crime.

Though Morton Grove's gun ban is five years younger than Washington's, it's considered the first in the country because the village is a municipality, whereas D.C. is a federal district.

Gun rights advocates hailed the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision affirming that individuals have a right to own guns and keep them in their homes for self-defense.

The National Rifle Association and others carried their enthusiasm straight to federal court, suing the city of Chicago and Mayor Richard Daley, a vocal supporter of gun control, and the Chicago suburbs of Morton Grove, Evanston and Oak Park.

Wilmette, another northern Chicago suburb, voted to repeal its ban. Officials there said they believe they weren't sued by the NRA because the village stopped enforcing its 1989 ban after the high court ruling.

"In my mind we had to repeal," said Wilmette Village President Chris Canning, who is also a lawyer. "I knew that our ordinance would not survive constitutional scrutiny."

Todd Vandermyde, an NRA lobbyist in Illinois, said communities working to repeal their gun bans simply see the writing on the wall.

"Some communities are truly seeing what is contained in the Supreme Court decision and they're reacting appropriately," Vandermyde said.

"Others want to spend taxpayer money on some Don Quixote-type quest," he said, referring to Chicago, whose lawyers insist the city's ban will withstand any legal challenges.

"We have no plans to amend our ordinance at this time," said Jennifer Hoyle, spokeswoman for Chicago's law department, noting that the ordinance has survived three previous court challenges. "We're prepared to take this fight to the Supreme Court if necessary."

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom said last month that his city would "vigorously fight the NRA" and defended the ban as good for public safety.

Even Washington, D.C., has remained defiant, quickly enacting gun regulations that advocates say are still among the strictest in the country.

Gun control advocates say communities should not rush into repealing gun bans, arguing that if Chicago and San Francisco win in court, bans elsewhere would be protected.

"We went through a lot 27 years ago," said Don Sneider, one of four trustees who voted for Morton Grove's gun ban in 1981. He's upset that the current board voted to repeal it.

"There was tremendous pressure from the NRA and from citizens," he said. "We got threatening letters, letters swearing at us. ... I didn't feel that they had to rush into repealing it."

Patrick Kansoer, a hunter who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit against Morton Grove, said he was pleased with the board's vote but hasn't decided whether to drop the suit because of a possible provision outlawing shotguns.

Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said he was disappointed to see communities' gun bans disappear because of financial concerns.

"The pressure that Morton Grove is feeling is because the NRA and the gun-lobby lawyers are pushing these issues, basically forcing them to make a decision on where to spend their money," Helmke said.

He said he is hopeful that Morton Grove and other communities will quickly write new gun regulations, like Washington has.

For his part, Krier, Morton Grove's mayor, said he is relieved that the Supreme Court has handed down a decision, leading the way for the village to act on what ultimately isn't a big issue in a place recently voted by Family Circle magazine as a "Best Town for Families."

"I don't blame Mayor Daley and the mayors... they want every tool available to them to stop the violence," Krier said. "If they believe that it has helped one homicide, then it's a good reason to fight it, but we don't have that issue here in Morton Grove."


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