A federal judge on Monday stripped away a key element of Chicago's gun ordinance, ruling that it is unconstitutional to prohibit licensed gun stores from operating in the city.
U.S. District Judge Edmond Chang found that the city failed to convince him that banning the sale of guns by licensed dealers was necessary to reduce gun violence.
The ruling also would make it legal for individuals to transfer ownership of a firearm as a gift or through a private sale as long as the recipient was at least 18 and had a firearm owner's identification card.
Chicago, the last city to allow residents to have handguns in their homes, once had one of the strongest handgun crackdowns in the country, making it a primary target of the National Rifle Association.
Overturning the ban on retail gun stores and private gun sales was the last major hurdle gun rights groups faced in their hard-fought battle to dismantle Chicago's tough firearm prohibitions.
The latest court ruling in the long legal fight came one day after Illinois, the last state to approve a concealed carry law, began accepting applications from residents who want to carry concealed firearms in public.
But gun shops won't likely be showing up in Chicago any time soon, since Chang delayed his ruling from taking effect to allow the city time to appeal.
Roderick Drew, a spokesman for the city's Law Department, said in a written statement Monday that Mayor Rahm Emanuel “strongly disagrees” with the judge's decision and has instructed city attorneys “to consider all options to better regulate the sale of firearms within the city's borders.”
“Every year Chicago police recover more illegal guns than officers in any city in the country, a factor of lax federal laws as well as lax laws in Illinois and surrounding states related to straw purchasing and the transfer of guns,” the city's statement said. “We need stronger gun safety laws, not increased access to firearms within the city.”
Since the U.S. Supreme Court forced the city to rewrite its firearms ordinance in June 2010, the city has faced a series of legal blows from the lower courts.
Gun rights advocates said they feared the city would stall the process, using zoning and other regulatory measures to make it difficult for businesses and individuals who want to open a store. After the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Chicago's ban on gun ranges in 2012, the city rewrote the law but added restrictions that made it difficult to find a location in the city to open a range, gun advocates said. That case still has not been resolved.
Todd Vandermyde, Illinois lobbyist for the NRA, said Chang rejected all of the city's arguments in his 35-page decision.
“The city is going to have to allow retail gun shops to operate and they are going to have to allow individuals to transfer firearms in normal transactions,” Vandermyde said. “So the question now is: How much more money does Rahm (Emanuel) want to spend fighting it?”
Mark Walsh, campaign director for the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, said the financially powerful NRA has systematically fought to water down gun laws in Illinois and across the country.
“That's the NRA's game plan. They keep filing suits and filing suits to chip away laws and get to their ultimate goal of a complete armed citizenry,” he said.
Though the 7th Circuit Court has ruled favorably for the NRA in recent cases in Chicago and Illinois, Walsh said other federal appellate courts have not followed suit.
“All too often the narrative is that the NRA is this monolithic machine that is winning everywhere, but that really isn't the case,” he said. “There has been the fear mongering by the NRA and gun manufacturers, but it does not necessarily translate.
“What we have seen is people, not just in Illinois but across the country, are successfully passing laws aimed to keep gun violence down.”
Chang found that the city's “blanket ban” on sales and transfers of firearms violated the constitutional right to keep and bear arms.
He acknowledged that Chicago has a serious problem with gun violence but said the city had not demonstrated how allowing the sale of firearms would pose a “genuine and serious risk” to public safety.