A federal appeals court once again has slapped down Chicago’s attempt to reduce its gun violence by making it harder for law-abiding citizen to possess weapons for self-defense.
The latest defeat for the city came this week from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. The court said Chicago’s restriction on the location of gun ranges, such as keeping them a certain distance from schools, violated the U.S. Constitution.
That the city has a problem with shootings is without doubt. So far in January, 30 people have been shot dead and another 136 have been wounded. In 2016, 715 were killed and another 3,664 injured, up nearly 60 percent from the previous year.
The victims were mostly black and in their teens, while many of the suspects had prior arrest records.
But the city’s focus on restricting gun rights has failed spectacularly.
It lost the McDonald case at the Supreme Court several years ago in which the justices affirmed that individual Americans are entitled to the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
In response, the city imposed a requirement that gun owners practice at gun ranges and then proceeded to ban all gun ranges.
The courts struck that measure down as well.
In the latest case, Chicago sought to restrict gun ownership by “an elaborate scheme of regulations governing shooting ranges,” according to the court opinion.
It included zoning restrictions that allowed gun ranges “only as special uses in manufacturing districts,” a prohibition on ranges within 500 feet of a residential district, school, place of worship or “multiple other uses” and a provision barring anyone under age 18 from entering a shooting range.
A three-judge panel on the appeals court said those restrictions aren’t constitutional, either.
“The two zoning regulations – the manufacturing-district classification and the distancing rule – dramatically limit the ability to site a shooting range within city limits. Under the combined effect of these two regulations, only 2.2 percent of the city’s total acreage is even theoretically available, and the commercial viability of any of these parcels is questionable – so much so that no shooting range yet exists,” the judges wrote.
“This severely limits Chicagoans’ Second Amendment right to maintain proficiency in firearm use via target practice at a range. To justify these barriers, the city raised only speculative claims of harm to public health and safety. That’s not nearly enough to survive the heightened scrutiny that applies to burdens on Second Amendment Rights,” the judges wrote.
The court said the “age restriction also flunks heightened scrutiny.”
“We held in Ezell I that the Second Amendment protects the right to learn and practice firearm use in the controlled setting of a shooting range. The city insists that no person under age 18 enjoys this right. That’s an extraordinarily broad claim, and the city failed to back it up.
“Nor did the city adequately justify barring anyone under 18 from entering a range. To the contrary, its own witness on this subject agreed that the age restriction is overbroad because teenagers can safely be taught to shoot and youth firearm instruction is both prudent and can be conducted in a safe manner.”
The opinion was authored by Judge Diane S. Sykes. The plaintiffs are Rhonda Ezell, Joseph Brown and William Hespen, residents who want access to a firing range. Action Target, a leading designer of ranges, is a plaintiff, as are the Second Amendment Foundation and the Illinois Rifle Association.
“We are delighted with the outcome of this lengthy case,” said Alan M. Gottlieb of the Second Amendment Foundation.
“The extremes to which the city has gone in an attempt to narrow its compliance with the Supreme Court ruling in McDonald v. City of Chicago can only be described as incredible stubbornness. In the 6½ years since the high court ruling in our McDonald case, the city has had ample opportunity to modify its regulations. Instead, Chicago has resisted reasonableness.
“We had already sued Chicago successfully to knock down its outright ban on gun ranges within the city,” he recalled. “Then they adopted new regulations that included the zoning, distancing and age restrictions that we contested in this legal action, known as ‘Ezell II.’ The city tried to severely limit where shooting ranges could be located, and they failed. The city put up arguments about the potential for gun theft, fire hazards and airborne lead contamination, and they failed. Even the judge’s opinion today noted that the city had ‘produced no evidentiary support for these claims beyond the speculative testimony of three city officials.’ This nonsense has got to stop.”
He called the ruling “a victory for citizens of Chicago who want to exercise their rights, and particularly for Rhonda Ezell, who has been steadfast in her resolve.”
Also on the panel with Sykes were Judges Michael S. Kanne and Ilana D. Rovner.
In 2014, federal courts rejected the city’s proposed limits on gun ranges.
The Supreme Court in McDonald v. Chicago declared the Second Amendment right to bear arms applies to individuals.
“The right to keep and bear arms must be regarded as a [substantial] guarantee, not a prohibition that could be ignored so long as the states legislated in an evenhanded manner,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the majority opinion.
That decision followed the 2008 Heller case in the District of Columbia that declared the Second Amendment to be an individual right. That case, however, pertained only to D.C. The McDonald case established the precedent nationwide.
The judges wrote that “the core right to possess firearms for protection ‘wouldn’t mean much without the training and practice to make it effective.'”
“These observations control here. Range training is not categorically outside the Second Amendment. To the contrary, it lies close to the core of the individual right of armed defense.”
They continued: “Tellingly, years after Ezell I no publicly accessible shooting range yet exists in Chicago. We therefore agree with the district judge that the challenged zoning regulations, though not on their face an outright prohibition of gun ranges, nonetheless severely restrict the right of Chicagoans to train in firearm use at a range.”
They scorched the city for asserting “without evidence” that “shooting ranges generate increased crime, cause airborne lead contamination in the adjacent neighborhood, and carry a greater risk of fire than other uses.”
“The city’s own witnesses testified to the lack of evidentiary support for these assertions. They repeatedly admitted that they knew of no data or empirical evidence to support any of these claims. Indeed, Patricia Scudiero, the city’s zoning administrator, conceded that neither she nor anyone else in her department made any effort to review how other cities zone firing ranges. She conducted no investigation, visited no firing ranges in other jurisdictions, consulted no expert, and essentially did no research at all.”