CITY HALL — Responding to a court mandate, a City Council committee approved a new ordinance Wednesday allowing gun shops in Chicago.
Ald. James Balcer (11th), chairman of the Committee on Public Safety, which passed the ordinance without opposition, called it "one of the smartest, most cutting-edge licensing laws in the country."
It would largely limit shops to the fringes of the city by banning gun shops within 500 feet of a school or park. It calls for criminal background checks for store owners and employees, requires a safety plan and surveillance cameras and calls for all sales to be videotaped.
Gun sales had previously been outlawed in Chicago, but a federal court struck down that ban in January. Mayor Rahm Emanuel asked and received a six-month period for the city to come up with a suitable law for licensing gun shops.
"I don't think we want these kinds of things in our communities at all," said Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th), speaking for many in the council. But they were resigned to pass what the court required.
Janey Rountree, Emanuel's deputy chief of staff for public safety, said it was meant to "comply with the court order without compromising public safety."
Rountree said gun violence remains one of the city's "most urgent problems." She cited a report issued last month that pointed out that 3,000 guns, or 20 percent of the guns confiscated by Chicago Police over a five-year period, were sold by just three shops in suburban Cook County and another in northwest Indiana.
Rountree called the ordinance "a national blueprint for the common-sense regulation of gun stores."
"I think this is a great ordinance," said Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), but he added, "We can't keep going it alone on this." Both he and Rountree called for Cook County and other local governments to pass similar laws.
The city ordinance would also ban alcohol at shops and sales to intoxicated people, and would limit a buyer to one gun a month in an attempt to prevent straw purchases.
According to Rose Kelly, of the city Law Department, the license can be revoked for any violation, but it also allows hefty fines of up to $3,000 and the possibility of jail time under state or federal laws. "It depends on the severity of the infraction," Kelly said.
"I think all the restrictions are reasonable," said Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd), but he also questioned whether the law would stand up under court challenges.
Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois Rifle Association, also believes there will be court challenges.
"It doesn't allow gun shops. It allows them to not be gun shops," said Pearson. "It's that strict." He raised objections over the $3,800 license fee for a firearms dealer and the taping of sales.
"It makes it impossible or undesirable to buy from those gun shops," Pearson added. "Who knows where those videos are gonna go? We know how tight and secure government is. ... Your latest firearm purchase may wind up on YouTube."
"I hope it passes muster in the courts," Balcer said. "The corporation counsel has done the best job he possibly can."
The ordinance heads to the full City Council for final passage next week.
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