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Court Decision on Chicago Handgun Ban Thrills Plaintiff

Otis McDonald says ruling that upholds right to bear arms is a "milestone"

When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Chicago’s handgun ban Monday, the grandfatherly lead plaintiff of the landmark Second Amendment lawsuit wore a wide grin.

“This is great. I am so happy,” said 76-year-old Otis McDonald. “It’s a milestone.”

In a split 5-4 decision, the high court ruled that Chicago’s 1982 ordinance banning residents from owning handguns was unconstitutional. The majority opinion found the constitutional right to keep and bear arms “applies equally to the federal government and the states.”

In Chicago, that means McDonald will eventually be able to keep a pistol in his nightstand to protect himself from the thugs who have robbed his house twice, wielded guns just steps from his front porch and even threatened his life. Allowing decent, law-abiding folks to have handguns at home will make Chicago a safer place to live, McDonald said.

“This will make criminals think twice,” the retired building engineer added. “If you have the right to have a handgun in your house, even if you don’t have a gun, that will give criminals a second thought, a third thought about breaking into your house.”

Mayor Richard M. Daley said he was disappointed with the high court ruling. Shortly after the decision, Daley introduced legislation aimed at replacing the handgun ban. The new ordinance could require gun registration, mandatory handgun training, insurance and even fingerprinting gun owners, among other things.

Chicago Alderman Anthony Beale, who heads the City Council’s Police and Fire Committee, held the ordinance until today so the committee could review the Supreme Court ruling.

“It’s always disappointing to have any ordinance struck down when it comes to public safety,” said Beale, whose ward is plagued with poverty, violence and drugs. “We’re moving swiftly and aggressively to put something in place for the well-being of our residents. We’ll take what the Supreme Court is saying, refine our ordinance and strengthen it.”

McDonald, the African American son of Louisiana sharecroppers, said he was filled with emotion when the ruling came down Monday.

“I was feeling the poor blacks who years ago had their guns taken away from them and were killed as someone wished. That was a long time ago, but I feel their spirit,” McDonald said. “That’s what I was feeling in the courtroom.”

McDonald wants people to remember him as a man strong enough to stand up for his beliefs even in the face of great opposition.

“I’m just plain, little Otis. I’m doing the best I can to make right a wrong. And I’ve done that,” he said. “I care about people, especially those who are less fortunate and afraid to stand up for themselves. That’s who I want to be known as.”

Mark Konkol is a writer in Chicago.

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