The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule this month on the constitutionality of Chicago’s gun ban, and many believe the justices will strike it down. But, while those on both sides of the gun-rights debate eagerly await the verdict, the decision is essentially irrelevant for many who live in Chicago.
By one expert’s estimate, there is a handgun in as many as 100,000 city households, despite the [28-year-old handgun] ban. And gang members or those with misdeeds in mind aren’t the only ones who have them. In some neighborhoods, otherwise-law-abiding citizens feel forced to violate the gun ban, they say, to protect themselves and their families.
But based on a study that Ludwig and other experts conducted in 2007 on Chicago’s underground gun market, he roughly estimated that as many as 100,000 Chicago households could have handguns.
“Judging from the available data, there are apparently a lot of people in Chicago who feel strongly enough they need a gun for protection that they’re willing to ignore the ban,” Ludwig said.
The report’s authors estimated about 1,400 black-market gun sales occurred each year in the Grand Boulevard-Washington Park neighborhood, “or about one sale per year for every 30 people living in this very high-crime neighborhood.” In interviews with more than 100 non-gang members ages 18 to 21 who owned guns, the report found the price was $250 to $400, a serious mark-up above legal prices.
In contemplating what will happen if the court strikes down the ban, Mayor Richard Daley repeatedly has painted a frightening portrait of what might follow, while adding that the city has contemplated the adoption of alternative gun-control measures.
“The city is committed to upholding the handgun ban,” said police spokesman Roderick Drew. “We haven’t wavered in that. Every gun taken off the street is one less gun that can fall into the hands of a criminal or a child.”
The city’s problem is highlighted in those cases where residents use their illegal handguns apparently in self-defense. In the most recent case, on Thursday, a 27-year-old South Austin resident had a valid firearm owner’s identification card but also a misdemeanor conviction for unlawful use of a weapon. He had pleaded guilty in 2002 to a misdemeanor weapons charge for possessing a 12-gauge shotgun.
In the other case, a 80-year-old Korean War veteran had been asleep at dawn with his 83-year-old wife and 12-year-old great-grandson when he was awakened by a burglar, who shot through the window in an effort to enter. Gun-rights advocates across the country embraced the elderly man as a hero.
“If any case dramatically illustrates the flaws in this kind of legislation, this case does,” said Robert J. Cottrol, law professor at George Washington University and a gun-rights expert. “The choice the Chicago resident has is obey the law and remain defenseless or decide to defend home and family by breaking the law and getting a gun.”
What’s more, he said, residents fear that if they don’t keep a gun, they’ll wind up at the mercy of those who do.
Every year for the last six, Chicago police have set aside a day for people to turn in guns, no questions asked. The number of weapons turned in hints at the greater total on the streets.
At one of the events last month, police collected more than 4,000 guns, other weapons and replicas in exchange for gift cards worth up to $100. Of those guns, 3,335 were handguns. Chicago police said they take in more guns through the program than New York and Los Angeles combined.
In Humboldt Park, around the block from where the 80-year-old homeowner shot an intruder, there seemed to be a consensus about two things: Many people have guns, even if they won’t talk about it; and many believe they need guns to safeguard their homes, families and possessions.