Supreme Court should listen and learn from Chicago’s horrific weekend of gun violence
When the high court takes up a potential landmark gun case in its next term, it should weigh heavily the practical realities of public safety.
When the Supreme Court takes up gun violence in its next term, we hope the justices will remember Chicago’s real-world experience over this Fourth of July weekend, when 104 people were shot and at least 19 killed.
We all need to take a step back from the sometimes facile exercise of looking at trends — how many shootings this year compared to last year, let’s say, or how many shootings in Chicago compared to other cities — and think hard about what just happened.
More than 100 Chicagoans were shot on what should have been a pleasant holiday weekend.
When the Supreme Court reconvenes in September, it is slated to decide whether to give people greater rights to carry firearms in public. The court could settle on a range of options, but gun violence opponents worry, for good reason, that the new conservative majority will upend a New York law at the heart of the case. If the court strikes down the century-old law, which places restrictions on who can carry guns, the result could be a scaling back of laws across the country, including in Illinois, designed to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.
For the most part, lower courts now take public safety into account when evaluating challenges to gun laws. But a small minority of judges takes a narrower view, based on whether a modern law, in their view, has a historical precedent from the nation’s founding or the ratification of the 14th Amendment or is analogous to laws from those times.
That interpretation would not allow for consideration of whether a gun law enhances public safety. And that, as Eric Tirschwell, managing editor for the gun safety group Everytown Law, told us, poses “a real risk to any number of important gun safety laws.”
Such an interpretation also would violate the idea that government should be responsive to the people, said Lee Goodman, a Chicago lawyer and author of “Too Many Rights and Too Many Guns.”
“If democracy is going to mean anything, it has to be relevant to the people in the times,” Goodman said. “There’s no point in trying to have a government from 250 years ago.”
Advocates on both sides of the issue will make their case to the Supreme Court. But what the justices can’t afford to do — not if our nation is serious about reducing gun violence — is adopt a rigid ideological stance that ignores what’s happening on the streets. People are being shot and killed by the hundreds every day.
In Chicago, 15th District Police Cmdr. Patrina Wines and a police sergeant were wounded by bullets sprayed by a man who fired into a crowd of West Side revelers at around 1:30 a.m. on Monday, police said, even though police were out in force.
Meanwhile, as we wait on the Supreme Court to act, Chicago, Cook County and the Illinois Legislature should do everything they can to reduce gun violence.
Over the weekend, as hospitals were struggling to treat gunshot victims, mothers on the West Side camped outside a vacant bank to “pray against violence.” Last month, the Legislature sent a bill to Gov. J.B. Pritzker requiring background checks on private sales of firearms.
But in Cook County and Chicago, officials still are blaming each other over who is responsible for the violence. In remarks on Friday before the City Council, Police Supt. David Brown repeated his complaints about the local criminal courts, which he says release violent offenders on electronic monitoring, only for them to commit more crimes. Brown repeated that complaint at a press conference on Tuesday, and was quickly rebutted by the state’s attorney, chief judge and public defender.
It was a sad reminder that the mayor, state’s attorney, police chief, chief judge and public defender are still failing to work as a team with a single plan to reduce gun violence. Instead, some of them point fingers.
The Biden administration has announced such anti-gun-violence initiatives as tougher federal enforcement of gun laws, regulation of untraceable “ghost guns,” a crackdown on trafficking of illegal firearms and money to hire more police officers. The Justice Department will create a new strike force to slow the flow of illegal firearms in Chicago. But Congress has a poor record of enacting significant reforms.
Gun advocates argue for their unfettered right to carry guns wherever they wish, arguing that this would make everyone safer. But guns are already everywhere. If more guns made us safer, we would be the safest nation on Earth.
Instead, gun shootings in the U.S. this year, as of Tuesday afternoon, have claimed 22,676 lives, according to the Gun Violence Archive. In New York on Tuesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a disaster emergency because of the extreme gun violence there.
More than 100 people were shot in Chicago over the Fourth of July weekend. We can’t go on this way.
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