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Here's how Chicago is playing a role in a major Supreme Court gun rights case

Crain's Chicago Business

Thursday, June 23, 2022  |  Column  |  Mark Walsh

Often a heated topic, the city's gun laws could impact a much-anticipated Second Amendment ruling.

While Illinois awaits a U.S. Supreme Court decision that most observers expect will overrule Roe v. Wade and return abortion rights to the states, there is another major decision with ramifications for the state and the city of Chicago that looms as the court nears the end of its term this month.

In New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, the high court is weighing its most important Second Amendment gun rights case in more than a decade, since the justices struck down Chicago’s ban on handguns in a 2010 ruling. The new case involves New York state’s strict, 100-year-old requirement that individuals show a “special need” to obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon for self-defense. That makes New York one of only about seven states that do not have more permissive “shall issue” permitting schemes for individuals who meet a range of basic requirements.

Still, the Supreme Court has said little about Second Amendment rights since its landmark decisions in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) and McDonald v. City of Chicago (2010), which established an individual right to bear arms in the home and applied that principle to the states, respectively. So advocates on both sides are eagerly awaiting the court’s decision in Bruen and what it might mean for concealed-carry rights generally and state and local restrictions on carrying weapons in sensitive places, such as schools and other government buildings.

This is where the city of Chicago comes in. The city corporation counsel’s office took the lead in writing a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of Chicago and 11 other cities in support of the New York rule.

The city’s brief sought to make some nuanced points about Chicago’s experience with gun regulation and violence. Chicago’s enforcement of various state and local firearms regulations “produces results” and “take hundreds of criminals and thousands of firearms off the streets each year,” the brief said. But it acknowledged, in detail, the recent “uptick in urban violence.”

Matters would be even worse if the court relaxes concealed-carry requirements, the city argued.

At oral arguments in the New York case in November, the lawyer arguing against New York’s strict concealed-carry permitting requirements sought to turn Chicago’s brief to his side, also with a somewhat nuanced point.

“The city of Chicago is in a shall-issue jurisdiction,” Paul D. Clement told the court, and Chicago “goes on to sort of, you know, essentially brag about all of the ways that they've done, consistent with that regime, to reduce crime in Chicago.” He was arguing that the court could strike down New York’s strict regime without removing all regulatory tools from the states and cities.

All this nuance was too much for Justice Elena Kagan, a member of the court’s liberal bloc and a former faculty member at the University of Chicago Law School. “I mean, most people think that Chicago is, like, the world’s worst city with respect to gun violence, Mr. Clement,” she said. “And Chicago doesn’t think that, but everybody else thinks it about Chicago.”

That could have just as easily been spoken by, well, Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott

A decision in the Second Amendment case is expected any day now.

UPDATE: On Thursday morning, the Supreme Court struck down the New York law, deeming it unconstitutional. The vote was 6-3 with the conservative justices voting to strike it down and the court's three liberal justices dissenting. You can read the opinion here.