Adding to the growing body of pro-Second Amendment judicial precedent, a federal judge on Monday overturned Chicago’s ban on retail gun sales. Judge Edmond Chang also overturned the city’s ban on private gun transfers between individuals.
The legal victory is a bigger win for gun-rights advocates than it appears at face value.
The Court’s ruling was simple enough. The 2008 landmark case D.C. v. Heller affirmed that the Second Amendment protected an individual’s right to own a handgun, overturning the District’s strict ban. Building off that case, the Supreme Court in 2010 overturned similar bans across the country in McDonald v. Chicago, which specifically challenged Chicago’s handgun ban. The right to possess a firearm must then “also include the right to acquire a firearm,” concluded Judge Chang.
But Judge Chang, who was appointed to the bench by President Barack Obama in 2010, isn’t an ivory tower academic who has only dealt in abstract legal theory. Prior to becoming a judge, Chang was a U.S. attorney in Chicago, serving as both the Deputy Chief of the General Crimes section and the Chief of Appeals for the Criminal Division. Judge Chang has a unique understanding of gun crime in Chicago, and if any judge might have been sympathetic to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s crusade to restrict gun access, it would have been him.
Instead, while covering the straightforward legal points, he also set out to systematically dismantle the city’s statistical and policy arguments in favor of Chicago’s gun sale ban. For example, citing several statistical studies, Judge Chang concluded that “it is doubtful that keeping criminal users away from legitimate retail stores will choke the supply of guns to those users.”
The judge was equally unconvinced by Chicago’s arguments about restricting the black market. Finding various flaws in the city’s reasoning, the judge bluntly concluded that “on this record . . . the gun-store ban has no effect on Chicago’s low household gun-ownership rate, which the City’s own study cites as a key driver of the frictions in the illegal market for guns.” He also quickly dismissed the city’s ban on private gun transfers and gifts noting that the city didn’t even bother to offer “any study or evidence that justifies its reasons.”
The judge even took a dig at the city on the related issue of suicides committed using firearms. Countering the city’s observation that suicides committed by firearms dipped after handguns were banned in 1982, the judge noted that the dip was actually smaller than the dip found in surrounding counties without a gun ban.
Given Chicago’s shockingly high homicide rate — 415 murders in the city in 2013, compared to 334 in New York City and 251 in Los Angeles — common sense suggests that Chicago criminals were ignoring longstanding bans on guns and gun transfers anyway. As Judge Chang noted in his opinion, the rights of law-abiding citizens were primarily burdened by the gun bans, whereas criminals were largely undeterred.
Judge Chang delayed his ruling to allow the city time to enter an appeal, but Chicago officials have already begun to consider less restrictive gun-regulations, signaling that a successful appeal is unlikely.
So as of Monday, gun-rights advocates won a decisive legal opinion from a former Chicago prosecutor and Obama appointee that both expands the Second Amendment and tears apart flimsy policy arguments for banning guns.
It sounds like the National Rifle Association got a late Christmas present.