Chicago still not up to speed with new gun law

December 6, 2010

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Chicago Mayor Richard Daley railed against the U.S. Supreme Court last summer because he feared the court would find Chicago's handgun ban unconstitutional.

"They're barricading the doors but they're saying everybody else should have guns.  That's the thing that bothers me in Washington.  As you notice, all Washington is being barricaded, all federal buildings, but they're saying everybody else should be able," said Daley.

His fears were well founded.

But after the court overturned Chicago's ban, it took just a couple of weeks for the city to write, pass, and implement a new gun law.

It was a decisive reaction but it was also largely symbolic.

And it's not terribly effective... at least not yet.


If you want to register a handgun in the city of Chicago you have to come here, to 4770 south Kedzie on the southwest side.

The City of Chicago has a storefront facility in a rather unremarkable strip mall.

Some of the other storefronts are vacant although there is a "Fashion Bug," a "Dollar Tree" and in the parking lot out front there's a "Kentucky Fried Chicken."

Inside, Chicagoans can pay parking tickets, or get police reports, or go through the application process that will allow them to legally own a handgun in the city.

BOB: It sucks.

Bob, who doesn't want to give his last name, is in the hallway outside the gun registration office. 

He says he already has handguns in his Chicago home, though he won't say how many.

He's owned them illegally for a long time.

After the Supreme Court decision, the city offered a 90 day amnesty to register illegal guns, but Bob missed that window.

BOB: They're making it so people get discouraged so you don't get a handgun.  That's what it seems like to me.

Bob says he could transfer his firearms to a dealer in the suburbs and then get them transferred back to himself.

That would make it look like he just bought the weapons and would allow him to register them, but that would cost money, as would the registration and the required firearm training.

So, he says, he's just going to keep the guns he has and he's not going to register them or tell the city he has them.

BOB: I'll just do what I've been doing all my life.  Like I tell my wife, it's just like a camera.  Just point and shoot.  Somebody breaks in, it's all them.  What else can you do.

Andre Queen sees the people who haven't given up on the gun registration process.

QUEEN: Since July 12th, we've had, we've had hundreds of students come through the course.

Queen runs Fidelity Investigative Training Academy.

He trains security guards and private investigators but he also offers the training people need if they want to get Chicago's Firearm permit.

QUEEN: This is classroom 'A'.  This is the primary room we use for training students in firearms.

On one wall there's a poster advertising holsters, and a corkboard with law enforcement patches and there are several targets hanging around the room, the kinds that look like the silhouette of the top half of a man.

The scores get higher as you get closer to the middle of his chest.

QUEEN: This is one of the training weapons we have.  This training weapon is designed in the form of a Beretta .92.

It certainly looks like a real handgun but it's black plastic and it's just used for teaching people how to hold a gun and how to stand.

Queen shows me other weapons on the table.

He teaches how to use pepper spray, telescoping night sticks and tazers.

With Chicago's new law, the company added a five hour, 75 dollar course, and Queen says it's been good for business.

QUEEN: At one point in time, we were running two and sometime three courses a week.

It was especially busy right after the law took effect but Queen says seven people signed up for last Saturday's class, and he's running another one this weekend.

Chicago's gun ordinance requires 4 hours of classroom training and one hour of training at a range.

Queen thinks that's not enough time, but the training is one of the things Mayor Richard Daley touted when the ordinance passed this summer.

DALEY: Now just think, I have to spend, we spend, police officers have to go through academy.  Yes, and go through a whole training program dealing with firearms. This is a dangerous thing you have.

But it wasn't just training on Daley's mind.

The other big rationale given by the mayor for the registration process was so that Chicago police would know where the guns are.

DALEY: There's a call.  A 9-1-1 call and they're going there.  How, when they get there, should they have the knowledge that you have a right to carry a gun.  That there are guns in this home, and how many guns and what type of guns there are.

The thing is, police don't know where the guns are.

The city has collected information from about 1200 people who have applied for handgun permits but none of the information is electronically available yet for cops responding to those 9-1-1 calls Daley talked about.

KIRBY: It's not a fully integrated database in terms of gun registration at this time.

Debra Kirby is general counsel to police Superintendent Jody Weis.

She says Chicago has extremely advanced communications systems.

Officers can access all sorts of information in their cars, but not information from the new firearm permit.

She says they just haven't had enough time in the 5 months since the rules became law.

KIRBY: For an officer going to a domestic violence incident to know that there's four guns in that house, that's helpful, and that's the goal I think ultimately is to ensure the officers have that information.

But Kirby doesn't know how long it will be before that information is available.

So the state of affairs -- at this point anyway -- is that the handgun ban was overturned and there was a lot of sound and fury from the city, but in reality, little action.

But Kirby says the Supreme Court overturning Chicago's handgun ban, that didn't really affect the way police do their work anyway.

The Court said that people have a right to a handgun in their home, but that's it.

KIRBY: It really doesn't matter.  If I have an individual on the corner with a gun they're in violation of the law.

Same thing if a gun is under a seat in the car.

Those are automatically illegal guns and police can take the weapons and arrest the individual.

The battle over Chicago's handgan ban was more of a symbolic skirmish, a very public one, but just a skirmish in the larger battle between gun control and gun rights advocates.

Having won that skirmish, gun rights advocates are pushing for the right to carry handguns in public.

Kirby says that's something that would have a significant impact on how police do their jobs.

Robert Wildeboer, WBEZ.

Music Button: Bassnectar, "Wildstyle Method (ft. 40 Love)," from the release Wildstyle