Weapons have no place at gatherings in Chicago where people come together to protest, march or otherwise express their views. We support in concept a local weapons ban at such events.
But state law on gun ownership and the difficulty of defining what constitutes a spontaneous public assembly will make it hard to apply the ban to guns. The City Council had better draw up an exceedingly precise ordinance if it is to be legal and effective, and we question whether that’s even possible.
On Wednesday, Ald. Edward Burke (14th) and Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th) introduced an ordinance that would ban guns, knives, sharp objects and other weapons from public assemblies in the city. The aldermen acted after seeing dismaying photos from elsewhere around the country — most notably Charlottesville, Virginia — of people toting virtual arsenals to public gatherings. Demonstrators carried everything from high-powered rifles to aerosol cans modified to spray fire.
The implied threat of such weapons has more than a chilling effect on free speech; it can freeze up open discourse entirely.
Existing laws in Illinois already ban guns at many gatherings. Illinois is not an “open carry” state, which means no one can legally flaunt firearms at public events, as they do in such states such as Virginia. Illinois does permit the concealed carrying of firearms, but not at public gatherings that require a permit. Also off limits are parks, where many public gatherings take place.
But not every public assembly requires a permit and is in a park, and it is here where new limits on weapons would be wise. Many public assemblies just happen, such as Tuesday’s spontaneous protest at Federal Plaza in response to President Donald Trump’s decision to wind down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The final ordinance will have to make clear which kinds of events are covered and, if it is to hold up in court, not give authorities a wide berth to make arbitrary decisions.
Even then, given the state’s protections for the concealed carry of weapons, the city’s ordinance might prove to hold up best for limiting other weapons. In addition to guns, the proposed ordinance, as written so far, bans “knives, weapons, sharp objects, shields, fireworks, chains, bats, clubs, sticks, batons, and any other rod-like instrument” at public gatherings.
The right to public assembly is at the heart of democracy. Lethal weapons have no place there.
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