Thursday, July 1, 2010

City Council Poised to Pass Still-Unseen Gun Legislation By Friday

Posted By on 07.01.10 at 12:39 AM

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Mayor Daley has arranged for the City Council to pass new gun-control legislation by Friday even though aldermen have yet to see it or even sit for briefings on it.

City officials say an ordinance that will replace the city's 28-year-old handgun ban will be considered by the council's police and fire committee on Thursday, though notice of the meeting hasn't been posted on the city clerk's website. And the mayor's office has quietly called a special meeting of the full council for Friday—on the eve of the long holiday weekend—so the measure can be enacted.

But as of Wednesday, most aldermen hadn't seen a copy of the legislation, which Mayor Daley has called "critical" in stopping rampant violence in Chicago. Few I asked about it were even aware that they would be expected to vote on a new law within 48 hours.

"I haven't seen it yet," said 33rd Ward alderman Richard Mell.

"We haven't heard anything," said 6th Ward alderman Freddrenna Lyle.

"Nothing yet," said 31st Ward alderman Ray Suarez.

"All we know is speculation and what we've read in the paper or heard on the radio," said 41st Ward alderman Brian Doherty.

Here's the backdrop in case you haven't been following the story.

The mayor claims that it's essential to restrict public access to guns, which he blames for Chicago's high rates of violence. Gun control is his chief crime-fighting strategy, and he often dodges questions about highly publicized shootings and crimes by instead railing against guns, the NRA, gun manufacturers, and what he deems the Supreme Court's complicity in gun violence. "They 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," he said after the U.S. Supreme Court essentially declared Chicago's handgun ban unconstitutional this week. Before the decision he'd been more hopeful: "Maybe one of them will have an incident, and they'll change their mind overnight, going to and from work."

The rhetoric provoked a kiss-off from Justice Samuel Alito, who in the Monday decision (go to page 43) endorsed the view that "the Second Amendment right protects the rights of minorities and other residents of high-crime areas whose needs are not being met by elected public officials."

But Daley is not backing down from his fight for gun control, which has been a successful political strategy if not a crime-fighting one.

Over the last several weeks city officials have orchestrated a series of hearings and press events to make their case that Chicago can and should find ways to restrict public access to firearms. Supporters cheer his efforts—"It's something he's got to have if he's running for re-election next year," opines one alderman who's no big fan—but critics say he uses the gun issue as "smoke" to keep from addressing an understaffed police force and other crime-fighting strategies.

On Monday Daley vowed again to craft a new law to restrict gun access but refused to say what exactly he had in mind. And he was vague about when it would be shared with aldermen. “We’ll be talking to them again this week, and we talked to a number of them last week,” he said.

On Tuesday corporation counsel Mara Georges said the legislation wasn't written yet, though she offered a few hints of what it might include, including a limit of one handgun per person and a ban on gun shops inside the city limits.

At the full council meeting Wednesday, aldermen were clueless about what was happening. "We really don't want to come back here Friday just before the weekend," said Lyle. "We have things to do in our communities—block club meetings—and it's a holiday and some of us try to have lives. At this point a few days isn't going to matter."

Few aldermen I spoke with would disagree. Not so long ago it was taboo for a Chicago pol to cast any doubt on the handgun ban. Now the mayor himself has conceded that it was rare for anyone to be charged with violating the ban. And some of his most loyal aldermen are rolling their eyes and making jokes about it.

"I believe everybody should have an AK-47 and a bazooka—especially a bazooka," said Mell. "But seriously, I have no problem with people having a gun in the home."

Mell added that in his view there was too much ado over handguns. "I think the best defense in the home is a double-barrel .20 gauge shotgun."

Yet history suggests that Mell and his colleagues are likely to pass whatever Daley and his team come up with, even if they barely have a chance to look at it first. Unless, of course, something happens to them on the way to work.

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