Conservatives in the frigid Midwest could be forgiven for wondering whether the last week’s cold has been a sign that hell has finally frozen over, for, within a single week they have won big in a pair of cities that had all but been written off. Last Thursday, Detroit’s chief of police, James Craig, discussed openly his conversion on the question of concealed carry, contending happily that “good Americans with CPLs translates into crime reduction” and expressing his hope that private gun owners would help to stem the tide of violence. Monday, across Lake Michigan, a judge struck down Chicago’s ban on gun sales, slamming progressive lawmakers into the bargain. Is Christmas really over?
“When we look at the good community members who have concealed-weapons permits,” Craig explained, “the likelihood they’ll shoot is based on a lack of confidence in this police department.” As a convert, Craig gave testimony that was of particular interest. “Coming from California, where it takes an act of Congress to get a concealed-weapon permit, I got to Maine, where they give out lots of CCWs,” he admitted, “and I had a stack of CCW permits I was denying; that was my orientation. I changed my orientation real quick. Maine is one of the safest places in America. Clearly, suspects knew that good Americans were armed.” To hear this from the police chief of the third most murderous city in the country is progress indeed.
All in all, it has been an unhappy few years for the gun-controllers of America’s more dangerous metropoleis. The Supreme Court’s 2008 D.C. v. Heller decision struck down the total ban on handgun ownership in the nation’s capital and established for the first time that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms. McDonald v. Chicago, a 2010 follow-up case, applied Heller to the rest of the country and nixed Chicago’s gun ban, too.
Since McDonald, Chicago has done rather poorly in court. In 2010, the city’s government sneakily attempted to re-impose its ban by the backdoor, first requiring that permits be awarded only to applicants who had undergone live-fire training, and then banning all the firing ranges at which such training could take place. Within a year, a circuit court killed the measure in Ezell v. Chicago, savagely admonishing the city for its defense; recording for posterity that the claim that firing ranges would do “harm to the public interest is based entirely on speculation” (“a gun range becomes unusually dangerous if one runs into the line of fire but that is also true of vehicular traffic,” the judge wrote, drily); and reiterating Heller’s direct line of equivalence between the First and Second Amendments — a finding that the gun-control movement, which has long insisted that no such line exists, is possibly going to regret having invited. Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s case, that citizens were not being denied their rights because they could go elsewhere to train, was shredded by the judge.
Emanuel’s losing streak continues. In Monday’s district-court ruling, the bench patiently explained to authorities that citizens cannot enjoy their Second Amendment rights if they are prohibited from performing auxiliary behaviors such as buying a firearm and training with it. This principle, first formally established by Ezell, is important. After Heller — which didn’t require courts to apply a specific standard of review when evaluating challenges to gun control — gun advocates wondered aloud whether cities would simply be able to institute de facto gun bans via more narrowly tailored measures. Nationally, the question remains open. D.C., after all, has done precisely that, and with the support of a federal judge. But Chicago has gone the other way — twice.
Signs of hope abound — not only in the decisions themselves but also in the manner in which they have been delivered. The justice who authored Monday’s decision — an Obama appointee, amusingly enough — pretty much eviscerated the city’s case, observing that the “transaction costs” of the sales ban were “borne by law-abiding residents” of the city; that it was “doubtful that keeping criminal users away from legitimate retail stores will choke the supply of guns to those users” because, by the testimony of the city’s own survey, “legitimate firearms dealers play a minor and unimportant role as direct sources of the criminal handgun supply”; and that the city had so many other means of trying to reduce crime that its decision to ban sales bordered on the inexplicable. Presumably, Detroit’s new chief of police would agree.
Most important, the court reaffirmed Ezell’s fundamental principle, that
first, a severe burden on the core Second Amendment right of armed self-defense will require an extremely strong public-interest justification and a close fit between the government’s means and its end. Second, laws restricting activity lying closer to the margins of the Second Amendment right, laws that merely regulate rather than restrict, and modest burdens on the right may be more easily justified. How much more easily depends on the relative severity of the burden and its proximity to the core of the right.
Courts being courts and judges being judges, the future of this controversy is unknown. But if the murder capital of the United States is unable to present a “public-interest justification” strong enough to overcome the Second Amendment, it is difficult to imagine what city or state could. The Constitution notwithstanding, it is tough, too, to imagine how authorities could orchestrate a reversal. It is infinitely more difficult to take things away from people than to refuse to award them in the first place. Last year, the state of Illinois was finally forced to join the other 49 American states and to introduce a concealed-carry regime. Not only did this ruling compel Chicago to end a gun registry that it had been compiling since 1968, but it also prompted the city to abandon its rule banning concealed weapons within city limits. Good luck reinstituting those in a hurry.
Illinois’s disarmers will have their work cut out, too. This week, the Chicago Sun-Times reported, 4,525 individuals signed up for carry permits on the first day of open registration, adding their names to the 11,000 firearms instructors who had already gone through early registration. Officials anticipate 1,000 applications per day — 350,000 to 400,000 this year alone. By way of contrast, only 7,043 Illinoisans enrolled in Obamacare plans during the first two months after the website’s launch. Even were Illinois somehow to win a reversal in court, it is tough to see politicians taking newly minted permits away from holders.
Inexplicably, Illinois’s governor, Pat Quinn, continues to argue that concealed carry will lead to shootouts in the supermarkets, steadfastly ignoring that similar measures have been introduced in every single other state without causing the bloodshed that is always allegedly right around the corner, and that gun crime has been cut in half during the exact same period that the laws have been liberalized. Rahm Emanuel, too, has promised to continue his prohibitionist streak.
Unlike Detroit’s police chief, the Illinois pair is apparently unable to learn new tricks. But before too long, they will be gone — consigned to the past, and able only to stand on the sidelines and snipe, watching with interest and with irritation the new crop of public servants, many of whom are beginning to notice that the old system was illegal and counterproductive, and that the new one is busy making the country a safer place for all.
— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.