CHICAGO (AP) — With parts of the city in the grip of gang warfare and spiking homicide rates, Chicago aldermen urged state officials to appeal an appellate court's decision tossing Illinois' ban on concealed weapons, with some suggesting they might launch their own legal battle.
Outside a City Council meeting Wednesday, one alderman after another said they are so concerned that lifting the ban could lead to more gun violence that they are willing to write a new city ordinance even if it triggers a lengthy and expensive court fight.
"I believe that the city would be well within its rights to prohibit that (concealed weapons) within its borders, and then we'll take that up to the Supreme Court," said Alderman Joe Moore.
Several alderman pointed to how quickly they crafted one of the strictest handgun ordinances in the nation after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2010 nullified Chicago's 28-year-old handgun ban, saying they must do something to stop what they worry would be even more bloodshed on the city's streets.
"People's safety is at risk," said Alderman Anthony Beale.
One reason the city might want to craft its own ordinance, they said, is that Chicago's gang problem is unique in Illinois. Nowhere else in the state is there such open gang warfare as in Chicago, where the fighting is so intense that police officers now show up in force at gang members' funerals to prevent violence like a recent gang-related shooting outside a church that left one man dead.
At one point last spring, the city's murder rate was up about 60 percent over last year, mostly due to gang feuds in some of the city's toughest neighborhoods. More recently, murders were up about 25 percent. City and police officials have launched a number of initiatives to bring the violence under control, including basing more officers in problem areas and tearing down vacant buildings that have become gang hangouts.
Guns already are too plentiful on some neighborhoods' streets. Alderman Roberto Maldonado said that while a concealed carry law would not allow gang members with criminal backgrounds to carry guns, the gang members could prey on law abiding citizens and steal their guns.
Or, he said, they would have greater access to guns than ever before because their friends and relatives who do not have criminal records would be able to carry concealed weapons.
"This will just exacerbate the big problems that we already have," he said.
Gun rights advocates, who maintain that concealed carry laws allow ordinary citizens to protect themselves better, agree with one thing Moore and others say: The appellate court ruling didn't end the fight over guns in Chicago.
"Even if the (ruling) makes it illegal for Chicago to write any ordinance and made it so if they did try to force one through, they'd be setting themselves up for lawsuits ... and on the hook for damages, I (still) expect them to do something," said David Lawson, a plaintiff in the Chicago handgun case that went to the Supreme Court. "You can't put anything past them."
For his part, Mayor Rahm Emanuel angrily denounced Tuesday's ruling by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals as a decision by judges who are out of touch with the dangers many residents face.
He talked about a "strange sense of values" that could lead to the concealed carry ruling the same day Cook County's chief judge announced the public will no longer be allowed to carry cellphones into criminal courthouses.
"Cellphones will now be banned in court, but guns? Open up the floodgates, let them in," he said.
Emanuel stopped short of recommending whether Attorney General Lisa Madigan should file an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court, something Madigan's office said she is considering. He did, however, say he had offered Madigan the services of city attorneys — who have as much experience crafting and defending gun control legislation as anyone in the nation — as well as Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and his staff.
At the same time, Emanuel promised that in the 180 days that the appellate court gave Illinois lawmakers to pass a concealed carry bill, he would be a "strong advocate ... for sensible gun laws to make sure we can protect people, the kids, the residents of the city of Chicago from both guns and gangs."
The debate over a concealed carry law might begin as soon as January, when state lawmakers return to Springfield. Gun rights advocates have promised to be tough in negotiations over a new bill, saying that the appellate court's decision has put them in a much stronger position. Gone, they say, is a need to compromise as there was when they tried unsuccessfully to push a bill through last year.
One thing in Chicago's favor is that Illinois is one of only six states that have what is called "home rule," which allows local jurisdictions to write their own gun laws.
In all of those other states, including California and Connecticut, home rule has given local law enforcement officials discretion in issuing permits and requiring applicants to demonstrate good cause for carrying, said Brian Malte, of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
"I know if we do have that ability there will be several, if not the vast majority of the aldermen, who would want to put their arms around that," Alderman Joe Moreno said.
Associated Press Writer Sara Burnett contributed to this report.