An anti-violence coalition sued three suburban villages Tuesday, saying they need to do more to regulate gun stores whose weapons have been recovered in large numbers at crime scenes in low-income neighborhoods in Chicago.
The Rev. Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina Catholic Church, and the Rev. Robin Hood, a West Side pastor, are among the plaintiffs in the civil-rights lawsuit against the villages of Riverdale, Lyons and Lincolnwood.
Lyons officials said they already have met with Chicago police to address their concerns about a gun shop there, while an attorney for Lincolnwood said officials there could not see “any conceivable basis for liability” on the part of the village.
The lawsuit, filed in Cook County Circuit Court, says those villages have “lax or insufficient methods of administration in licensing and regulating gun dealers.”
At a news conference, Pfleger accused leaders of those suburbs of “closing their eyes” to shady practices by gun dealers in exchange for tax income from those businesses.
“I’m tired of the bloodbath taking place in our city’s streets,” he said.
The lawsuit said guns sold at shops in those suburbs end up in Chicago neighborhoods “in a manner that disproportionately jeopardizes the lives of African Americans, causes mental anguish and distress and diminishes the value of their homes and other property.”
The Coalition for Safe Communities in Chicago is focused on Chuck’s Gun Shop in Riverdale, Midwest Guns in Lyons and Shore Galleries in Lincolnwood.
Those stores, along with Westforth Sports in Gary, accounted for nearly 20 percent of guns recovered at crime scenes in Chicago between 2009 and 2013, according to the lawsuit, citing a city of Chicago report.
Many of those guns were recovered within three years of their original sale, the lawsuit said.
Illinois doesn’t license and regulate gun dealers, leaving that instead to the municipalities where the stores are located.
The types of regulations the lawsuit is asking Riverdale, Lyons and Lincolnwood to adopt include:
- Performing background checks of store employees.
- Having safety plans approved by the police to deter theft.
- Training employees to identify straw purchasers, who are legal gun buyers who illegally supply weapons to people barred from owning firearms.
- Keeping a log of a store’s gun sales in which the weapon was recovered in a crime.
Municipalities can require gun dealers to decline to deal with customers who have recently bought one or more guns used in a crime, according to the lawsuit, which was filed by the law firm Despres, Schwartz & Geoghegan.
The lawsuit asks the court to declare those three suburbs in violation of the Illinois Civil Rights Act and issue an injunction requiring them to strengthen their regulation of gun stores.
Other lawsuits intended to reform gun-shop operations in the suburbs have failed in the past.
The city of Chicago, for example, filed a $433 million lawsuit against gun manufacturers, dealers and suburban stores in 1998 after Chuck’s Gun Shop allegedly sold 171 guns to 10 undercover officers posing as gang members over a two-month period. The Illinois Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit in 2004.
As a result of that lawsuit, though, Riverdale passed an ordinance that regulates gun stores.
The ordinance contains some of the provisions sought in the lawsuit filed Tuesday, including a requirement for gun shop employee background checks.
Riverdale’s mayor declined comment through a spokeswoman.
Steven Elrod, the attorney for Lincolnwood, said the village wasn’t served with the lawsuit, but he said he read a news release issued by Pfleger and Hood about it.
“While we certainly appreciate the concerns that they raise, we cannot see any conceivable basis for liability on the part of the village of Lincolnwood,” Elrod said.
The village of Lyons released a statement saying authorities there have met with the Chicago Police Department and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s staff to address their concerns about the gun shop.
“We have recommended the Chicago Police place an officer at the gun store to monitor gun sales, but they have repeatedly declined that recommendation,” the statement said.
“Lyons continues to monitor and work with the gun store to ensure that it follows the letter of the law. We believe they do follow all regulations on gun sales as mandated by the state and federal government.”
The statement noted that village officials have not been served with the lawsuit, but said “it is obvious the city is looking to pass the blame onto outside communities and businesses for the crimes and short-comings in dealing with the crimes in neighborhoods within the city of Chicago.”