Chicago has been fighting a losing battle on guns, and it's not quite ready to stop. In 2008, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a Washington, D.C., ban on handguns violated the Second Amendment, the city should have realized its own ban was doomed. Instead, it went through its own litigation, which ended with the Supreme Court ruling that Chicago, too, was trampling on a constitutional right.
At that point, the city passed a new ordinance allowing Chicagoans to get permits to own handguns, provided they got training at a gun range. But, in an odd twist (or a stubborn protest), the ordinance also prohibited commercial gun ranges. As might have been expected, the range ban was struck down by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The city grudgingly allowed them, but only in manufacturing districts, with a special-use permit, and least 500 feet from any residential area, school, library, church, liquor store or day care center, among other sites. The restrictions, not by accident, put nearly 98 percent of the acreage in Chicago off-limits. The practical figure is 100 percent: Not a single commercial gun range has opened.
It was no big surprise when the 7th Circuit found this ordinance overly burdensome. But the City Council remains in no hurry to submit to the reality of Second Amendment rights. Recently, it put off a vote on a proposed measure designed to comply with the court ruling — a measure that would allow ranges in business, commercial and industrial areas with a special-use permit and drop the distance requirements. Some aldermen are opposed, with Ald. Michele Smith, 43rd, charging that the federal court of appeals is "completely out of touch with the needs of cities (and) the protection of our children."
Maybe so, but the city still has to comply with the court's rulings. In truth, the judges had good reason to reject the reasoning behind the restrictive ordinance. The city, for example, claimed such venues are an environmental and fire hazard. That's no truer of commercial ranges than of the law enforcement ranges located in Chicago — which numbered 11 at the time the case was argued.
The city claimed commercial shooting sites could generate crime. But the court noted the city furnished no evidence to support this conjecture. And a place frequented by law-abiding adults equipped with firearms and skilled in their use really isn't the most tempting target for felons.
Plenty of cities have found these facilities compatible with public safety. A large commercial gun range opened a few years ago in Waukegan, for example, and Waukegan police Cmdr. Joe Florip says there have been "no issues or problems." Nor does he recall any with another range that is no longer in business. Chicago's lawyers were able to find only two examples of thefts from shooting ranges in the entire United States since 2010.
There is also considerable social value in encouraging those who own guns to learn how to use them safely and competently and maintain their proficiency. That's what ranges are for, and there is no good reason to force Chicagoans to drive to the suburbs to find one.
Aldermen may not like to see their power to regulate guns curtailed in court. But it's about time they woke up to reality.
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