Gun owners rip Oak Park regulation plans
Dan Dittmer talks of personal experience during a public hearing on the future of guns and their regulation in Oak Park during a meeting in the Oak Park Village Hall. | Dan Luedert~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 3, 2012 8:05AM
More than 100 people filled the Oak Park council chambers jAN. 24 for a public hearing on regulating private handguns after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the village’s handgun ban in 2010.
The largely civil 90-minute event, technically a meeting of the Oak Park Health Board, saw handgun proponents outnumber pro-regulation speakers 15-7.
Handgun proponents, many wearing “I-GOLD” logo of the Illinois Gun Owner’s Lobby Day event, argued that reasonable, responsible law-abiding adults could and should be trusted to handle lethal weapons for the purpose of self-defense.
Regulation proponents argued that firearms are inherently dangerous, people are flawed and together they present a clear public health threat that requires regulation.
“We’re not here to talk about if citizens of Oak Park will have guns, we’re here to talk about how citizens will have guns,” said Reshnia Desai, of Lyman Avenue.
She quoted statistics that found that people with guns in the house are 12 times more likely to die in domestic violence incidents, and handguns are 11 times more likely to be used in suicides or suicide attempts, than they are to be used for self-defense.
Michael Podalak, of South Ridgeland Avenue, said that while he respects the Second Amendment, he disagreed strongly with one speaker’s contention that guns are “tools.”
“Guns are not tools. They were invented as a quicker, more efficient, more reliable way to kill another human being,” Podalak said. He noted that 75,000 people die annually by gunshot, a third of them accidentally.
Many regulation proponents were from the southeast side of Oak Park, where Oak Park’s first gun shop in 30 years, Windy City Firearms, opened for business on Roosevelt Road in December amidst a flurry of neighborhood protest.
Cara Hendrickson and Karen Blatchford, who both live on East Avenue near Roosevelt Road, joined Jim Kelly of the South East Oak Park Community Organization in calling for zoning laws that require more distance between new gun shops and parks, daycare centers and schools.
The owner of the gun shop, Justin Delafuentes, said the ongoing dialogue has little do with him or his business.
“It’s really about the people of Oak Park, not me,” he said, adding it would be impossible to open a gun shop in the village where there isn’t a school, park or child care business nearby.
Kyle Davis, of the 900 block of Fair Oaks Avenue, scoffed at concerns over gun shops located near parks, schools and day care, saying he’d never heard of “any person walking out of a gun store and shooting up a Montessori school.”
Davis said he favored a “common sense” approach that provided needed regulation “without infringing on my rights.”
Many handgun proponents, however, balked at any regulation whatsoever. While advocating educating people about proper handgun use, they disputed that educating young people would lessen handgun violence.
“You can’t pass any new legislation that the criminal element will obey, and that is the biggest health issue of all,” said Chip Buerger of the 1100 block of N. Columbian Avenue.
“It’s not gun violence, it’s gang violence,” agreed Edward C. Ferraro of the 1200 block of N. Linden Avenue. “That’s where you should be putting your focus, on controlling the gangs.”
A suggestion that authorities conduct “spot checks” of gun safety locks in people’s homes drew an audible and sustained groan from the audience.
“Not gonna happen,” one person called out.
David Schweig, of the 400 block of N. Humphrey Avenue, an original member of the Oak Park Freedom Committee that fought unsuccessfully against the 1984 handgun ban, passed out fliers urging the village to appoint a citizens committee on the gun issue.
Village Manager Tom Barwin said he would consider it.
“That may be one of the recommendations the (village) board makes. We’ll take these recommendations to the board, see if they think it’s appropriate, and check with our attorneys,” Barwin said.
Schweig ripped into village officials in general and Barwin in particular during his public comments. The existing handgun ban, he said, “has had no success at doing anything. Where’s the reports, where’s the statistics?”
He challenged Barwin to openly discuss what he said was a $1.6 million legal bill the City of Chicago and Oak Park still owed to the NRA lawyers who argued the case before the Supreme Court.
“Tell us poor ignorant citizens how much we really owe,” Schweig said. “I’d like to have that secret breached, Mr. Barwin, in the paper.”
Gregg Simon, of the 1100 block of South Oak Park Avenue, a lawyer who called himself a “Second Amendment Democrat” who did not own a gun, said he “hoped Oak Park would be more pragmatic than it’s been” and less ideological. It was, he said, headed for more expensive litigation if it pursued regulation.
Margaret Provost-Fyfe, director of the Health Department, said the board plans to include what it heard at Tuesday’s meeting with its own research on the subject, in a report to the village board.
“We’ll review it at our next meeting in February, and then forward it to the village board (in March),” she said.
Attendance at Tuesday’s meeting was likely hiked by a Facebook posting last week by the Illinois State Rifle Association, which urged members to come to the meeting and to arrive early.
ISRA 1st Vice President Mike Weisman suggested it was the other way around, saying he’d been alerted to the hearing by concerned gun owners from Oak Park.
Otis McDonald, the Chicago man who filed the federal lawsuit that eventually brought down Oak Park’s handgun ban, said he hadn’t expected Tuesday’s public comment to tilt against handgun regulation.
He expressed satisfaction at what he termed the forceful and informed manner in which handgun proponents asserted self-defense rights, saying “that is the argument.”
“Citizens are being misrepresented,” McDonald said. “Their desires aren’t being heard by the people representing them.”
McDonald underscored one of the main points voiced by handgun proponents throughout the evening, opining, “it is not law abiding citizens that are causing trouble. It is the people who don’t have to answer to the law.”