On Dec. 11, 2012, the United States Court of Appeals for Seventh Circuit held that an Illinois law that forbade persons from carrying a loaded weapon outside his or her home violated the Second Amendment and was unconstitutional. In a 2-1 decision, the Court said, “A right to bear arms thus implies a right to carry a loaded gun outside the home.” The Court stayed its decision for 90 days to give the Illinois legislature time to adopt a new law that might pass constitutional muster.

While not deciding the issue, the Court suggested that the right to carry concealed weapons may be restricted. It pointed to the laws of other states that forbid felons and certain other persons from owning or carrying a gun, that require a person seeking a permit to demonstrate competency in handling a gun, that allow private businesses and other private institutions (such as churches) to ban guns from their premises, or that ban guns from certain public places (such as schools).

The Seventh Circuit also referred to a New York law – upheld by the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit – that requires an applicant for a permit to carry a concealed weapon to demonstrate “proper cause” to obtain the permit. New York law also allows each county and each city to issue permits and allows each to establish its own set of guidelines.

The Illinois Attorney General sought rehearing of the Seventh Circuit’s decision before the full Court of Appeals, and the original panel’s decision was upheld by a 5-4 majority on Feb. 22. Whether the Attorney General will seek to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is still unclear. What the Illinois legislature will do is also unclear.

We think, though, that any law adopted by the Illinois legislature that allows guns to be carried outside the home should be as restrictive as possible. It should limit the class of persons who may carry guns outside the home. It should prohibit guns in certain public places (such as schools, airports, courthouses). It should allow private businesses (such as office buildings, shopping malls, theatres, retail stores) and other private institutions (such as churches) to ban guns. And it should require a person seeking a permit to carry a gun to demonstrate that he or she can competently handle the gun.

We also favor the New York approach, which would require a person seeking to carry a concealed weapon to demonstrate “proper cause” to carry a gun and that would preserve the right of counties and cities to establish their own set of guidelines for a permit. We think it critical that the State not pre-empt Evanston’s home-rule powers.

These types of restrictions may be the subject of further litigation. But we should be willing to test the limits of the Second Amendment.

Moreover, we would like to see additional restrictions in the final legislation: a ban on all assault weapons, mandatory background checks and expanded and enforced waiting periods, particularly for purchases at gun shows.

The gun-show sieve is not solely an Illinois problem. Illegal weapons come to Chicago – and, regrettably, to Evanston – across state lines. If waiting periods and background checks are to be effective, they should not only be strict and rigorously enforced, they should also be uniform in nearby states: Indiana, Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin, Kentucky and Michigan.

Governor Pat Quinn should already be talking to the governors of these states. One state’s closing of loopholes will not matter much when the borders are open for illegal transfers.

If Gov. Quinn is not talking to neighboring governors, or if he is making no progress, we have a backup in our mayors. There is precedent for mayors to act when larger units of government will not. More than a decade ago, when the federal government refused to sign the Kyoto Protocols to protect the planet, several mayors signed a compact to implement those protocols; by 2005, 500 mayors had signed the compact.

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl is one of 800 mayors who have joined Mayors Against Illegal Guns. We applaud that step, which shows a willingness to act in the best interest of the community. We trust that the City manager, City staff and City Council will support her and will craft a gun ordinance that will pass Constitutional muster, but still be restrictive enough to protect residents. 

We know that people have their reasons for owning guns, and we are not deluded enough to think that City ordinances or even state bans will deter their pursuit of the weapons of their choice. The climate of wariness, combined with fear-mongering in some of the media, may also persuade some that a loaded gun in the house is a good defensive weapon. 

Still, we believe there are many reasons and many ways to keep Evanston from being a community of gun-toters. The City, the police department, faith communities, youth organizations and individual mentors are all working to show that there is an alternative to violent confrontation, that mediation and reconciliation are preferable to retaliation, and that Evanston can become a City where people need not feel they have to carry a weapon.

Step by step, Evanston will become the peaceable City we envision.