Park District Balks at Gun-Rights Group Meeting | Bleader

Friday, June 25, 2010

Park District Balks at Gun-Rights Group Meeting

Posted By on 06.25.10 at 10:00 AM

Gerald Vernon says he did everything he should have to obtain a permit to hold a meeting at the Tuley Park field house on the south side. He told the park supervisor he expected 150 to 200 people to attend, filled out the paperwork she gave him, paid a $100 fee, and walked away thinking he'd reserved a meeting room for the evening of June 30. The group that would be convening was Illinois Carry, an organization advocating for the right to bear concealed firearms.

But on Wednesday, a week before the scheduled date of the event, he got a call telling him his permit had been revoked.

Vernon says a Tuley Park official informed him he has to submit a new permit application that will be reviewed before he gets approval for the meeting. But when I contacted the park and asked about it, I was told the event had been canceled altogether.

Says Vernon: "This just sounds a whole lot like Daley's bullshit."

Vernon has reasons for sounding impertinent. Mayor Daley's view of guns, gun manufacturers, gun-rights advocates, and people who ask questions about his views of same are well established: he doesn't like them, he doesn't want to hear from them, and he blames them for causing the violence in the streets. Other top city officials, including the police chief and leading aldermen, follow his lead.

In recent weeks the mayor has repeatedly dodged questions about the city's ban on handguns, which the Supreme Court is expected to strike down before the end of the month.

At the same time, Chicago has been in the throes of the annual surge in violence that arrives with warm weather. Some of the most highly publicized recent incidents, including the slaying of a police officer last month, occurred in the Chatham neighborhood near Tuley Park.

"People want the ability to defend themselves and Daley won't let them," Vernon says. "And last weekend we had more than 50 shootings!"

Vernon, a south-sider who teaches at Northeastern Illinois University's Center for Inner City Studies, says he's been in favor of conceal-and-carry laws for years but became more active in the issue after his girlfriend was robbed last year.

The organization has been holding public meetings across the state to discuss its support for gun ownership rights. "We worked our way into Cook County and held a meeting in Lansing with the whole intention of doing them in Chicago," says Valinda Rowe, a spokeswoman for the group. "Where we decide to go is based on feedback. We've been hearing from people in that neighborhood [Chatham], especially after the tragic death of the young police officer—people were saying, 'We need to have this conversation here. We need to be able to protect ourselves.'"

"We wanted to have the event in Chatham as a result of Officer Wortham being killed there and the publicity generated by it," Vernon says.

He says the group figured the best place to hold it would be in a meeting room in the Tuley Park field house, so three weeks ago he went there and told park supervisor Donna Jones what he wanted. "Miss Jones was very helpful," he says. He got a receipt for his payment and thought everything was good to go—until Jones called him on Wednesday to say his original permit had been "rescinded." He'd need to fill out another set of paperwork to apply for a special events permit.

"She said it could be another two weeks and then a committee would review it," Vernon says.

As luck and poor planning would have it, I went to the Tuley Park field house myself Wednesday night. I'd heard about the meeting at a City Council hearing last week, but I mistakenly thought it was scheduled for the 23rd instead of the 30th. Jones let me know that I was a week early—and more important, that the event had been scotched altogether. "It's not going to happen here," she told me.

I asked if she knew why and she said she wasn't sure. "I just recycled their flyers," she said. She walked over to the recycling bin and fished one out. The rest of them remained in the can.

When I reached Rowe she sounded surprised that I'd been told the event was off. She said all she knew was that there had been a "glitch" in the permitting process. "Threw flyers in the bin already! Sounds like she's pretty sure it's not going to happen at Tuley!" Rowe said her group was working on a "plan B" but asked if I had any suggestions. (I didn't.)

I got back in touch with Jones. She was certain there would be no gun-rights meeting at Tuley next week. She said Park District officials had decided that the Tuley Park meeting room couldn't accommodate Illinois Carry, but she wouldn't say who specifically had given her the orders. "You would have to call the marketing director," she said, meaning the Park District press flack downtown.

I got Park District spokeswoman Jessica Maxey-Faulkner on the phone. She said she didn't know anything about the situation but would look into it and get back to me. So far she hasn't.

UPDATE: I first heard about the planned town hall meeting when Sixth Ward alderman Freddrenna Lyle groaned about it during a City Council hearing. But when I followed up with her Friday, she said she had nothing to do with the decision to yank the permit. "I have never spoken to anyone about this," she says.

Tuley Park is in Lyle's ward. Lyle is a strong backer of gun control but said Illinois Carry should be allowed to hold its meeting. "They want to go into a community touched by the violence because it's an easier sell," she says. "But those people have a right to meet and it's up to us who disagree with them to show up and make another argument."

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