Dear Chicago: Keep the grip on gun laws
A public defender wants Chicago’s next mayor to monitor handgun laws
In April 1990 Jeanne Bishop had an experience with gun violence that changed her forever. She lost two family members and endured months of investigation before authorities finally identified the murderer. The case had several consequences. For one, Bishop changed careers and became a public defender; she works today in a Cook County felony courtroom located in Skokie. More often than not, she represents defendants in cases where a firearm was involved.
But her experience also pushed her to use personal time to advocate for stringent gun control laws. She cites statistics that suggest firearms are used in suicides and homicides more often than they’re used for personal protection. Preliminary data from the Chicago Police Department suggest that firearms were involved in 354 murders in the city last year.
Bishop’s work to strengthen gun control laws in Chicago has become more challenging; in 2010 the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Chicago’s ban on most handgun ownership in the city, despite Mayor Richard M. Daley’s efforts to keep the ban in place. Bishop hopes the city’s new mayor and city council will devise ways to work around this development.
Dear Chicago is a project of WBEZ's Parterships Program. Jeanne Bishop was nominated for the series by Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago.
It was April 7th, 1990, and Nancy Bishop Langert, my younger sister, was 3 months pregnant and married to Richard Langert. We had all gone out to dinner to celebrate my father’s birthday at a restaurant in Chicago. When the dinner was over I went home to my apartment in Chicago, my parents went to their home, and Richard and Nancy went to their town home in Winnetka.
When they walked through their front door they saw that this killer was waiting for them. He had a .357 Magnum handgun loaded with bullets and forced them to the floor. He handcuffed my brother-in-law, and Nancy started begging for their lives. He took them into the basement and executed them there. He shot my brother-in-law once, execution-style in the back of the head, in front of my sister. He turned the gun on her, so she put her arms around her head and he fired into her pregnant abdomen twice. He left her there to bleed to death.
At some point Nancy must have realized she was dying so she dragged herself over to Richard’s body and wrote in her own blood next to him the shape of a heart and the letter U. She died there next to him.
The killer’s name is David Biro. He killed them in April, then bragged to a friend about it in June. In October the killer was going to commit another murder. When the friend realized Biro was going to kill again, he went to the Winnetka police station and said, “I know who did this.” The police went to this young man’s home and found the gun, the handcuffs, the glass cutter, burglary tools, and this trophy notebook compiled with poems about the killings and press clippings. We even learned that he had gone to Richard and Nancy’s funeral.
They arrested Mr. Biro, he was put on trial, and the jury found him guilty. He received the mandatory sentence for a double homicide committed by a juvenile and that was life without parole, meaning you die in prison.
I didn’t know that much about guns or gun legislation then. The first question I had when I found out my sister had been shot to death by a 16-year-old was: How did he get a gun? The more I learned about what could have saved her life, the angrier I got.
The person who killed my sister was chronically in trouble. His parents had to hire a lawyer to get him out of trouble, whether it was running a bicycle chop-shop, shooting people with BB guns out of his window, or trying to poison his own family with rat poison in their milk.
Mr. Biro decided he wanted to have a gun, so he used an adult’s personal information to get a firearm identification card, or FOID card. One was actually mailed to his house. His mother came home and saw this thing and realized her son had committed a serious felony. She immediately called the lawyer and gave this card to him. When David Biro found out, he called the lawyer and said he was going to break in and take it.
Mr. Biro went to the office, took the hinges off the door, entered the law office and looked for his FOID card. He goes to the lawyer’s unlocked desk drawer, pulls it open and finds a .357 Magnum handgun, speed loader and bullets. Two days later my family members were dead.
That made me angry. I didn’t understand why a trigger lock that would have cost the manufacturer $1.50 wasn’t required. I didn’t understand why the law didn’t require the lawyer to at least lock the drawer where the gun was being stored.
It’s unusual and rare, but Chicago was able to have a handgun ban. And the town that I live in, Winnetka, was able to have a handgun ban. But there was a challenge to the federal ban on handguns in the city of Washington, D.C., and that was the Heller decision. The U.S. held that Washington D.C. could not prevent homeowners from having a handgun in their home. So the NRA’s next step after Heller was to sue Chicago, Winnetka, Wilmette, Evanston, and every other town in Illinois that had a handgun ban, seeking the same ruling. Smaller towns like my town of Winnetka were so outmatched financially by the NRA that rather than risk going forward in lawsuits they simply abandoned their handgun bans, which broke my heart.
Mayor Daley did decide to fight and fought it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in the McDonald decision. I was so proud of him and so grateful. After the McDonald decision Chicago immediately passed this very comprehensive gun control package that has a lot of good stuff in it: training, storage, and registration with the police. These are reasonable things. These are measures that are meant to promote public safety. I hope the next mayor will be someone who brings equal courage and passion to the fight to defend the laws that we have now in place.