Gun proposal stirs debate, not action

Published: 1/25/2008 12:17 AM

A proposed Cook County ordinance that would effectively put several gun shops out of business has enraged gun enthusiasts, but many political observers doubt it will garner the necessary votes to pass.

Commissioner Larry Suffredin, an Evanston Democrat running for state's attorney, has proposed banning gun shows and severely limiting gun shop permits.

He introduced the measure in December and immediately sent it to a committee he chairs. Suffredin admits he doesn't yet have the votes to pass it, but denies charges that the ordinance is simply an election-year measure he can tout in his state's attorney campaign.

He said the measure would put out of business a South suburban shop whose guns have wound up being used in thousands of crimes. But he concedes it also would put out of business at least 10 other gun shops with better records.

In the past, Suffredin has enacted county ordinances banning assault weapons, and he says he has eight votes for this one, needing just one more to pass it.

Cook County Board members do not expect Suffredin to call the measure for a vote before the primary election Feb. 5. Nonetheless, gun owners and at least one commissioner are proceeding with caution, because on the Cook County board, nothing is ever taken for granted.

"We're taking it very seriously," said Commissioner Tim Schneider, a Bartlett Republican who represents Hoffman Estates, where Cabela's Outdoor Superstore is located. The store does significant business in guns. Suffredin says he's negotiating with the store on a possible exception.

Commissioner William Beavers also introduced two other gun-control ordinances in December, but his staff said Thursday he is withdrawing them.

Suffredin's measure would decree that gun shops could not be located within one mile of schools or parks, nor within 10 miles of one another.

Normally, county ordinances of this type apply only to unincorporated areas or towns that do not have home-rule power. But Suffredin's ordinance applies to all gun shops in Cook County, regardless of their location.

"This article shall control the licensing of all firearms dealers within Cook County, Illinois, except those areas which are governed by an ordinance of another governmental entity that is more restrictive in nature," the pertinent part reads.

That's another problem, say those who point to the ordinance as just an election-year stunt. Such language goes against the Illinois Constitution -- not because of the right to bear arms, but because home-rule municipality ordinances typically trump county ordinances.

"Certainly, the way it's phrased … that does fly in the face of the Illinois Constitution. The county doesn't have the power to do that," said Mark D. Rosen, professor of law at Chicago-Kent College of Law.

Even so, said Richard Pearson of the Illinois State Rifle Association, the ordinance ought not to become law in the first place, because it would force law-abiding gun shops to sue for their rights, he said. Government should concentrate on enforcing the gun laws it has, not on making it harder for law-abiding people to get guns, he said.

Lots of gun owners agree with him, and mass e-mailings and letters-to-the-editor are being circulated as a result, urging gun owners to vote against Suffredin for Cook County state's attorney in the upcoming election and perhaps at the same time giving Suffredin the very publicity he wants for the race.

Gun control, said Paul Green, a political science professor at Roosevelt University, typically plays well with Cook County Democrats.

"Politically, it's gold," Green said.

Whether the proposal is or is not a serious one, county commissioners would first have to schedule the issue for a public meeting, and no such effort has yet been made.

Gun shop ordinance

Although there are doubts about whether it could become law or even pass constitutional muster, a proposed Cook County ordinance would:

• Ban gun shows in Cook County

• Prohibit the licensing of gun shops within one mile of a park or a school

• Prohibit the licensing of gun shops located within 10 miles of one another.