[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois [official website] on Tuesday struck down [opinion, PDF] a portion of the Chicago Firearms Ordinance [text, PDF], saying the standard was unconstitutionally vague. Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan struck down a section of the act which prevents firearm purchase by individuals who have “been convicted by a court in any jurisdiction of … unlawful use of a weapon that is a firearm.” Chicago resident Shawn Gowder filed this suit when his application for a handgun was denied due to a 1995 misdemeanor conviction of possession of a firearm. Der-Yeghiayan explained that an ordinance is unconstitutionally vague if a person of ordinary intelligence is unable to understand what is prohibited. In his decision on the law, he said that it is not immediately apparent that the law prohibits issuing a permit to a person convicted of non-violent possession of a firearm:
Section (b)(3)(iii) of the Chicago Firearm Ordinance does not provide a person of ordinary intelligence a reasonable opportunity to know what is prohibited, in that it does not define the term “unlawful use of a weapon…” A person of ordinary intelligence would understand or interpret the term “unlawful use of a weapon that is a firearm” to mean using a firearm for an unlawful purpose, and not mere unlawful possession. … There is something incongruent about a nonviolent person, who is not a felon but who is convicted of a misdemeanor offense of simple possession of a firearm, being forever barred from exercising his constitutional right to defend himself in his own home in Chicago against felons or violent criminals.
Gowder was supported in his suit by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the Illinois State Rifle Association (ISRA) [advocacy websites]. The city of Chicago did not indicate if they will appeal the decision.
Chicago lawmakers have struggled to limit firearm possession in the city without violating the Constitution. The Chicago City Council unanimously approved [JURIST report] the Chicago Firearm Ordinance in July 2010, imposing strict regulations on firearm possession. Under the ordinance, residents who possess firearms are required to keep them inside their homes, and are not permitted to take their guns into the yard, garage or porch of the home. The legislation was enacted four days after the US Supreme Court ruled in McDonald v. Chicago [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that the Second Amendment right to bear arms is applicable to the states as well as the federal government. The decision effectively struck down Chicago’s former handgun ban, as it prohibited citizens from keeping handguns in their homes under any circumstances. The court’s ruling in McDonald cited the holding in District of Columbia v. Heller [JURIST report] where the court held that the Second Amendment protects the right to possess a handgun in the home for the purpose of self-defense.