CHICAGO — Every day 82 people die due to gun violence throughout the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control. Chicago Public School officials say 27 students have died by gunfire since September 2007. One weekend here left nine people dead in 36 shootings and the week after that five people were found shot to death inside a pillaged South Side home. Chicago Police Department statistics show that from 2004 to November 2007 there were 43,685 firearms-related crimes in Chicago.
It appears this constant mayhem continues to be caused by America’s leading weapon of choice, guns.
Yet, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 June 27 that the Second Amendment to the Constitution protects an individual’s right to own guns for personal self-defense and not merely as part of a state militia. The landmark ruling lifts the District of Columbia’s 32-year-old ban on handguns.
The ruling gave new life to the National Rifle Association and their drive against any common sense gun laws. Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said of the ruling, “We’re not done yet. This monumental decision is just the opening salvo.”
And so the NRA last week filed lawsuits against San Francisco, Chicago and several Chicago suburbs challenging long standing handgun laws. The Chicago law was enacted in 1982.
Mayor Richard M. Daley called the ruling “frightening” and said he is prepared to fight the gun lobby, which has long criticized the city’s regulations on the sale and registration of handguns.
“If they think that’s the answer, then they’re greatly mistaken,” said Daley. “Then why don’t we do away with the court system and go back to the Old West? You have a gun and I have a gun and we’ll settle it in the streets,” he said.
Jennifer Bishop is the Brady Campaign’s national program director for victims and survivors. She is also a gun violence survivor. Her sister, who was four months pregnant, and her sister’s husband were shot to death in their Winnetka, Ill., home in 1990. The gunman was sixteen, and according to Bishop, he just wanted to know “what it felt like to shoot and kill someone.”
Even in the wake of such a horror, Bishop advocates “common sense” regulations on guns.
The ruling, she said, came about “when you have right-wing judicial activism at its worst.” Clearly the Second Amendment is about militias during a specific time period, she said.
On the other hand, Bishop said, the Brady Campaign sees a positive side of the ruling.
“We never supported handgun bans but the new ruling says that regulating guns is fully constitutional,” said Bishop. It means that background checks, laws that address illegal trafficking of guns and the banning of military arms to the public are all constitutional, she said.
“The news overall is very, very good when it comes to our campaign, especially when it comes to protecting laws that require licensing, registration and general regulation of guns,” she said. “Now we can get down to business and pass common sense laws that will prevent gun violence and save lives.”
But for Tio Hardiman, director of the gang mediation and community organizing wing of Chicago CeaseFire, a grassroots violence prevention group, the ruling sends the wrong message, especially to communities wrecked by violence.
“Youth on the streets are going to think it’s legal now to carry a gun,” Hardiman said. Most of the youth Hardiman works with come from dysfunctional households with broken families and live in neighborhoods suffering from poverty, racial discrimination, gangs, police abuse and unemployment.
“We need to change the thinking about the epidemic of violence,” he said.
The gun control problem is important but what is also important is electing leaders that will stand up for young people’s rights to jobs, educational opportunities and a clean and safe environment, said Hardiman.
“What our young people really need are leaders to provide healthy alternatives like a good paying job, college tours, job fairs and training, and open gyms for sports and recreation programs,” said Hardiman.