The Wednesday Journal, Oak Park’s local newspaper, ran a story discussing Oak Park’s efforts to keep its handgun ban. My response to that story is below:
The village [of Oak Park, IL] believes its ban, in place since 1984, will hold up in court because voters approved it in a referendum the following year. “This was an ordinance that was voted upon by a 54-percent majority of Oak Parkers.”
The Constitution and Supreme Court have made clear that gun ownership is an individual constitutional right. That means that having a (slim) majority of people vote to violate that right does not justify the violation. Indeed, the very purpose of having constitutional rights is to ensure that a politically powerful majority does not deprive a politically weaker minority of their basic rights. Perhaps a few examples of similar voter supported laws will show the more liberal and progressive residents of Oak Park that voter ratification doesn’t mean that a law is right or constitutional:
- A majority of people in 1960’s Alabama were in favor of infringing the constitutional right to be free from racial discrimination and segregation.
- A majority of people in many parts of the country are currently in favor of infringing the constitutional right to abortion.
- California’s Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage, passed with a 52% majority of the vote.
I give these particular examples because Oak Park is a very progressive community. It has fought against racism for decades, supports gender equality, and was one of the first municipalities to officially recognize domestic partnerships between same sex couples. However the very reasoning that Oak Park is using to justify its handgun ban is what opponents of racial equality, abortion, and gay rights use to justify their discriminatory laws. Also, not that gun rights fit in with liberal ideals, while gun control is sexist, racist, and disadvantages gay people.
“Oak Park has been a leader in being gun free . . .”
I literally laughed when I read that quote. The fact is that Oak Park is far from “gun free.” Just about every week, I write an article about the armed robberies in Oak Park that are committed by criminals with handguns. Sometimes the village of Oak Park has as many as 3 armed robberies in a single day. Criminals also shoot citizens on the streets of Oak Park, and in their homes too. Passing a law that bans guns doesn’t make the village of Oak Park gun free, any more than passing a law against murder makes an area “murder free.” Whether we’re talking about a small village like Oak Park, or a large city such as D.C. or Chicago, handgun bans have consistently failed.
The reason that Oak Park’s handgun ban doesn’t work is simple: Criminals ignore gun control laws, just like they ignore the laws against armed robbery or shooting people. A criminal who commits armed robbery in Illinois is already committing several serious felonies, such as (1) unlawful use of a weapon, (2) assault with a deadly weapon, (3) unlawful restraint and, of course, (4) armed robbery itself. A criminal who is willing to risk conviction on those serious felony charges won’t fear the relatively minor $1,000 to $2,000 fine (and no jail time) that is imposed on violators of Oak Park’s handgun ban. The people who do obey the handgun ban are the law abiding people who fear the embarrassment of being convicted of any crime, even one that carries only a fine. The result is that instead of being able to defend themselves against armed and/or physically stronger criminals, Oak Park residents are left vulnerable. Worse yet, when an Oak Park citizen kept his gun and used it to defend his children against an AWOL, drug-using, car-stealing, home-invading criminal, that citizen was prosecuted by Oak Park for having a handgun.
The Oak Park Board of Health hopes to produce a plan next year if the village is forced to repeal its handgun ban. It would focus on safety, education and health impacts in an environment where handguns were legal here for the first time in 24 years, said Frank Vozak, chair of the health board.
This is one thing that I can agree with. Educating adults and children about gun safety is a good idea. Gun bans, on the other hand, lead to people who don’t know how to handle guns responsibly, and then end up unintentionally killing themselves or others when they find a (legal or illegal) gun lying around. Teaching people, especially children, the basics of gun safety and safe gun storage could go a long way to preventing such tragedies. It is also worth noting that even parents who don’t own gun should teach their children about gun safety, as a parent can’t supervise their child every moment of the day, and that child may end up at a friends house or other location where a negligent individual has left a gun lying around.
” . . . many in Oak Park don’t know much about a handgun”
That lack of knowledge exists for both handguns and long guns; and it is a problem. I see understanding how to use a handgun, which is the the most popular self defense tool, as an important part of being a good citizen. Those who own guns and know how to use them can stop rapists, prevent murders, and stop terrorists. Unarmed people, on the other hand, are often unable to prevent their own murders. Parents in particular have a moral duty to protect their children from preventable harm, and I see gun ownership as the best means of preventing a violent criminal from harming one’s children.
The good news is that guns are some of the most simple tools in existence. As someone who became a gun owner in his 20’s, I can assure the citizens of Oak Park that learning to safely use a gun is ever so easy. I’ve found that learning to drive a car, scuba dive, fly a light airplane (still learning that one), or even bake cookies is far more challenging. My girlfriend, who had never fired a gun before, has managed to become quite proficient with several pistols and revolvers after spending just a few hours at our local shooting range. She can even manage to handle my home defense shotgun (although she dislikes the recoil). If an uneducated criminal can manage to use a gun, then the generally well-educated citizens in Oak Park can certainly do even better.
Finally I would like to make clear the real issue here. The NRA and the gun owners that are suing Oak Park are obviously not trying to force Oak Park residents to go buy a gun. Instead, they are trying to protect the rights of those who wish to have a gun inside their homes for self defense against the criminals who ignore the gun ban anyway. To those that live in Oak Park and don’t wish to own a gun, I would say that it is your right to make that choice, and nobody is trying to force you to have a gun. All that we gun rights advocates want is for you to please respect the rights of those who wish to have a gun for self defense.