In Dallas, where Kevin Laude grew up, it was common for his friends and neighbors to own guns. Some even kept ammunition in the trunks of their cars for an impromptu trip to the shooting range.
But when Laude, 36, of West Town, moved to Chicago in 2012, he said he noticed that Chicagoans associate guns with violent crime, not licensed gun owners, like him. He owns a 9-millimeter handgun and a 12-gauge shotgun.
“There’s a lot of fear of the unknown here,” he said. “Some people I think see it as exotic, or that somehow it’s dangerous.”
For decades, Chicago has outlawed the sale of firearms within city limits. Earlier this year, however, a federal court ruled that Chicago’s ban on firearm sales was unconstitutional and that the city needed to reverse the ban. Under a looming July 14 deadline, the City Council approved a strict set of regulations Wednesday that would limit where and how potential gun stores could operate in the city.
The new rules, which include a provision that gun retailers can’t open shop within 500 feet of a school or park, mean that only .5 percent of Chicago’s total geographic area would have the proper commercial zoning for a gun store, according to city officials.
Janey Rountree, the city’s deputy chief of staff for public safety, said city officials went tough on zoning regulations to combat the city’s illegal gun trafficking problem. Police recover approximately 7,000 illegal guns per year on average—20 percent of which come from just a few stores. That’s a significant number, Rountree said.
“The vast majority of gun stores do not contribute to the illegal gun market,” she said. “That’s why it’s important to have a licensing law. The federal law in this area is relatively weak on its own.”
Critics of the city’s ordinance say it is another attempt to continue the ban on gun sales without addressing the city’s underlying crime woes. Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, said he doubts that a gun store could flourish under the strict conditions. He also expects a federal court to deem the regulations unconstitutional if the issue goes to court.
Chicago’s zoning restrictions would be among the strictest of any city in the U.S., but they’re not necessarily unreasonable, said Daniel Webster, a professor and the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research.
“I don’t buy the argument that the only people who are going to be buying the guns are legal gun owners so you don’t have to worry about it,” he said. “People don’t understand that there are close connections between the legal and underground markets for guns.”
More oversight over the sale of guns in cities, Webster added, tends to result in less illegal trafficking.
“Nobody wants guns being diverted to criminals,” he said, “You could be the biggest gun lover imaginable, you still don’t want gun dealers selling guns to gang members.”
Gun owner Laude said he worries that Chicagoans don’t know how to exist with guns on city streets.
“Before I got into guns, I was completely terrified to be in a room with them, like they could go off at anytime,” he said. “After a lot of training, I learned that it’s not really like that. It takes a person to use it.”
Before the ordinance was approved at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Ald. Deborah Graham (29th) spoke in support of the city’s gun sales ordinance, saying the stricter the rules, the better.
“We need every tool possible in the toolbox to help us combat the violence in our community,” she said.
Mark Treiber, 27, of Uptown, is skeptical of stringent control.
“Those who go through the effort of legally obtaining firearms, the background check and the legal hullabaloo, they’re not the ones you’re worried about,” he said.
Noting the proliferation of anti-gun stickers cropping up around Chicago, Treiber, who owned guns when he lived in North Carolina, agrees that there’s a stigma against firearms in the city, but said he believes the culture is shifting.
“In the past two years, anyone you saw who had a handgun was not supposed to have a handgun,” he said.
Now that the laws are different, he plans to purchase a firearm again.
“Living in the city, you never know what you’re going to expect,” he said. “I’ve always grown up with the notion of having the right to protect myself.”
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