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Editorial: Upholding Cook County’s assault weapons ban

Tuesday, September 03, 2019
Chicago Tribune
by EDITORIAL BOARD

When a gunman began firing on people in downtown Dayton, Ohio, on Aug. 4, police responded quickly, killing the shooter 32 seconds later. But by then, he had shot 26 people, nine of them fatally. He was able to wreak such havoc so rapidly because he used an AR-15 military-style gun with a high-capacity magazine.

These firearms, commonly known as assault weapons, have been put to horrific use in such places as Newtown, Connecticut; Las Vegas; Parkland, Florida; and El Paso, Texas. Inspired by the guns soldiers wield in combat, they include such features as pistol grips and folding stocks and are perfect for inflicting many casualties in a short time.

 

The dangers they pose have long been recognized. In 1994, Congress enacted a law banning these weapons, as well as magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds. The ban expired in 2004. But in 2006, Cook County approved a similar ban, outlawing the sale and possession of such guns as well as high-capacity magazines. The city of Highland Park, in Lake County, later imposed its own prohibition.

Gun-rights zealots see these laws as an affront to the Second Amendment, which gained new force when the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated bans on handguns in Washington, D.C., in 2008 and Chicago in 2010. In those decisions, the court stressed that individuals have the right to own guns for purposes of self-defense.

But the justices didn’t reject gun restrictions across the board. The court stipulated that the Second Amendment doesn’t guarantee “a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever.” It indicated it had no problem with laws with denying guns to felons, barring guns from schools, regulating commercial sales and the like.

The justices didn’t address the regulation of “assault weapons.”But in 2015, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago upheld the Highland Park law. And on Thursday, the same court said the Cook County ban does not infringe on any constitutional right.

Lawyers for the gun owners who challenged the law argued that restrictions that might be tolerable in Highland Park, a suburb where violent crime is rare, are unacceptable for the whole of Cook County, which has many dangerous areas. But the appeals court dismissed the idea that constitutional rights vary from place to place, and it noted that county residents still may choose from a variety of guns suitable for self-defense.

An assault weapons ban is no panacea. Many mass shootings have been carried out with ordinary handguns and rifles. But military-style weapons seem to have a special allure for this type of killer. As the 7th Circuit judges said in the Highland Park case, “The features of an assault weapon, as set out in the ordinance, appear to be more valuable in an offensive capacity than a defensive one.”

Whether the Supreme Court will agree with the appellate court’s analysis, or ever consider this case, remains to be seen. In the meantime, people who live or work in Cook County can be grateful that here, at least, the danger of these guns has not been ignored.

Editorials reflect the opinion of the Editorial Board, as determined by the members of the board, the editorial page editor and the publisher.

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Submit a letter, of no more than 400 words, to the editor here or email letters@chicagotribune.com.



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