Shot in the dark
The Supreme Court has signaled its intention to overturn Chicago's 28-year-old handgun ban, as it did in Washington, D.C., in 2008. Here's what to expect when you're expecting a repeal.
THE CRIME RATE COULD ACTUALLY GO DOWN
It’s a controversial theory, but several studies have suggested that not only do gun bans fail to lower crime rates, but violent crime actually increases in cities with gun bans. Carl Moody, an economics professor at the College of William & Mary in Virginia, submitted to the Supreme Court a comparison of Chicago’s violent-crime rate with that of the U.S.’s other 24 largest cities. It shows that, since 1983, the first full year of the city’s ban, Chicago’s violent-crime rate has been, on average, 20 percent higher than that of the other cities. (In D.C., the murder rate rose during the handgun ban, and following the repeal in 2009, the rate dropped 20 percent.)
“In places that have a ban, you’re taking guns out of the hands of the good guys but not taking them out of the hands of the bad guys,” Moody told us by phone. “Now the bad guys look around and see easier targets because they know that law-abiding people are the people who are going to be disarmed.”
Critics of the more-guns-less-crime view, like Thom Mannard, executive director of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, say these studies mislead by disregarding other factors that contribute to crime rates, like policing, poverty, unemployment, gangs and drugs. Mannard cites a highly regarded 2004 National Research Council review that concluded studies on the relationship between gun laws and violent crime are “too weak” to be definitive.
GETTING A GLOCK ISN’T GOING TO BE EASY-PEASY
Handguns may soon become legal here, but Mayor Daley likely won’t make acquiring one a cinch. In March, Daley pleaded with the Supreme Court to uphold the ban for fear of Wild West–style shoot-outs, and just last week he began a push for new statewide gun-control laws. It’s a good bet the City Council will approve strict gun regulations, just as D.C. did. In the nation’s capital, acquiring a handgun is a time-consuming process, requiring multiple trips to the police department, a fingerprinting, a five-hour class that can cost $250, a ten-day background check and a 20-question exam.
A RASH OF GUN SHOPS PROBABLY WON’T OPEN OVERNIGHT
There are no firearms stores in Chicago, with a sprinkling of gun shops in the collar suburbs. Mannard says you can expect things to stay that way—at least initially. He says the Daley-led City Council could put up hurdles for would-be proprietors looking to sell handguns within city limits. “There’s any number of ways the city could make it very difficult for a [gun shop] to open: if they put in licensing fees saying, ‘It’s going to cost you $50,000 just to open up’ or zoning restrictions saying, ‘You can’t be within so many thousands of feet of a school.’”
THERE WILL BE LOTS OF CHALLENGES
In D.C., regulations by the city council after the Supreme Court’s ruling upset litigious gun-rights advocates, who successfully pressured the council in September 2008 to expand the list of legal handguns to include semiautomatic pistols. In June 2009, a suit by another group of gun backers expanded the models even further. And with the legal floodgates open, yet another group tried challenging D.C.’s assault-weapons ban, but a judge affirmed the prohibition in late March. A case still in litigation is testing D.C.’s ban on carrying concealed handguns in public.