Evanston aldermen tonight are scheduled to vote on an ordinance to ban possession of assault weapons in the city.

The ordinance is a response to state legislation that — if signed by Gov. Quinn — would give municipalities just 10 days to adopt such bans before losing their power to do so.

The ordinance, as drafted by Corporation Counsel Grant Farrar, follows the pattern set by similar ordinances in the City of Chicago and Cook County be enumerating a set of features — from folding stocks to barrel shrouds — that would define an assault weapon and covers semi-automatic handguns and shotguns as well as rifles.

In support of the proposed ordinance, Farrar cites a position paper from the International Association of Chiefs of Police that lists an assault weapons ban as one of several “common sense policies” to reduce gun violence.

The police group says that during the 10 years a federal ban on assault weapons was in place the number of crimes associated with assault weapons dropped by two-thirds.

It says “assault weapons are reoutinely the weapons of choice for gang members and drug dealers” and “are all too often used against police officers.”

Farrar also cites a U.S. Treasury Department study that concluded assault weapons are not particularly suitable for sporting purposes.

Violation of the assault weapons ordinance could bring up to a $1,500 fine and six months in jail.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. A step in the right direction

    I believe this is the step in the right direction, the City Council should vote Yes on this ban and I look forward to seeing more national support on similar bans to help keep our streets safe. Please don't forget about the support to our own city Gun Buy Back Program on this Saturday.

    1. If this is what you think is

      If this is what you think is going to keep your streets safe than you have one horrible outlook on whats going on. Whens the last time someone was shot with an assualt rifle around here? Also these peopole with AR's are the ones who would probably protect our streets even more……and when they are gone…we have nothing..

  2. The proposed ordinance

    The proposed ordinance appears to be unconstitutionl, in part, upon its face. Evanston stands to be on the hook for attorney's fees and court costs if this ordinance is passed.

    Was Grant Farrar absent from Con Law when the subject of "ex post facto" laws was discussed? The text of the proposed ordinance would retroactively criminalize the possession of a wide variety of firearms that were previously legal.

    I rather doubt that the shootings that have occurred recently involved guns owned by FOID card holders.

  3. $2 million to fight crime or a lawsuit

    The Evanston City Council seems to have decided to make a potentially bad investment by choosing to enact an "Assault Weapons Ban" [the "AWB"] which is legally flawed, violates the 2A, and seeks to confiscate property from up to the point of the passage of the law abiding citizens. If they pass the AWB,  it will result in drawn out and expensive litigation….similar to the litigation which occurred when SCOTUS announced its decision in Heller and Evanston continued to refuse to recognize the right to individual handgun ownership. The NRA and Second Amendment Foundation ["SAF"] sued the cities of Chicago, Oak Park, and Evanston. Evanston wisely capitulated at a relatively early stage and amended its ordinance to comply with Heller. Chicago and Oak Park weren't that bright…and wound up writing a check to the NRA/SAF for $1.5 million to cover THEIR legal fees plus another $1.5 million of their own legal fees…in other words $3M spent for NOTHING.

    If the City passes the AWB they will certainly find themselves defending another expensive lawsuit. The Mayor and the City Council have already seen a draft copy of the suit, as of the last City Council meeting so they know what is coming. The cost of defending an AWB suit is estimated to be $1.5 – $2 million, with the risk of having to pay the additional amount if they fail and the other side is awarded legal fees. The Cook County "Blair Holt" AWB has been in litigation for six years [Wilson v. Chicago], and has been thrown out and tossed back to the court of original jurisdiction. The Evanston City Council is potentially facing a $2-4 million cost to defend a law that, is quite likely unconstitutional and going to be thrown out…..a law that seeks to solve a problem that doesn't exist. Automatic ["NFA'] weapons have been prohibited in Illinois since 1934. In fact, since the NFA was passed in 1934 there has only been one murder committed with one and that was by a police officer. Out of 564 murders in Chicago in 2012 not a single one was committed with a rifle — let alone an assault weapon.

    The Evanston City Council….acting like sheep at the suggestion of Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon are seeking to pass an AWB…a topic they clearly don't understand…to solve a problem that Evanston doesn't have….so it accomplishes nothing. Have they budget for the $2-4 million to cover litigation? If not, where is it going to come from. How many police officers salaries, or improved programs could the same funds cover towards  addressing the crime problem around ETHS…..I think we ALL KNOW THAT ANSWER. The crucial test is whether the Evanston City Council can overcome its own hysteria to solve a problem that needs to be addressed rather than "do something" by passing a faulty and unneeded law which is focused on solving a non-existant problem. Could a Columbine or Sandy Hook happen in Evanston….YES you bet….ask anyone in law enforcement. Would passing an AWB in Evanston do anything to prevent it….NO…and the same people will confirm that response.

    It may be too much to expect, but the Evanston City Council could make the right choice and do something about local gun violence.

  4. Ordinance is a waste of time

    The police group says that during the 10 years a federal ban on assault weapons was in place the number of crimes associated with assault weapons dropped by two-thirds.

    Note that the above sentence does not mean that the overall number of gun crimes dropped at all during the federal ban, so our Corporation Counsel is either disingenuous or dim. In fact, almost all of the numerous studies of the federal ban have concluded that it had no causal effect on gun crime.

    "[B]anning assault weapons would have as little effect on mass shootings as banning whiskey would have on drunk driving. Even if we concluded that drunk drivers were disproportionately drunk on whiskey, banning whiskey would just mean that the drunk drivers will shift to vodka, gin, tequila, or other alcoholic beverages that are just as dangerous as whiskey. The same is true for the so-called “assault weapons.”" – Prof. Eugene Volokh, UCLA law school

    So why can't the city council just pass the gun ban to send a message, even if every smart person knows it will have no effect on crime? – Because it's improper and even dangerous to pass laws that will not advance the public good. And that applies whether we're talking about multipage ordinances detailing the minutiae of acceptable newsrack aesthetics, or a pointless assault weapons ban that distracts from anti-violence measure that MIGHT ACTUALLY WORK.

    I would be shocked if anyone, ever, in the history of Evanston, has been killed by an assault weapon. Nationwide, in 2011, there were 8,583 murders by gun. 323, or less than 4%, of those gun murders were by rifle. And most rifles are not assault weapons.

    Of course, the city council will probably pass this unanimously tonight. I just hope they realize they've wasted the time of the corporation counsel, and added another pointless ordinance to Evanston's voluminous city code. They haven't done anything to address a real Evanston problem.

  5. Evanston has enough money to

    Evanston has enough money to waste on court fees agianst the NRA, but not to use for our childrens education Use it for that, use it for education. All you'll be doing with this ban is disarming the people that follw the law, criminals don't follow the law. They'll get the assualt weapons that they when they want. The only ones affected by this are the people that follow the law. The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

  6. Wish the aldermen were paying to defend this on their own dime

    Those predicting an expensive lawsuit are correct.
    Going through the ordinance line by line, it's clear that the city is exposing itself to liability through both legal and factual errors:
    WHEREAS, House Bill 183 did not define what an “assault weapon” is, however, this ordinance provides a list of cosmetic features that cumulatively place a firearm into the definition of an “assault weapon."

    In the lawyer trade, they call this a party admission. The city is admitting that they are arbitrarily banning certain guns based on cosmetic features, which implicitly are no more dangerous than guns without the features. Black scary guns bad! Massive city code good!

    WHEREAS, assault weapons have certain characteristics that make these weapons more dangerous than ordinary weapons typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes, and that these combat-designed characteristics enhance lethality and make assault weapons conducive to criminal applications;

    No. Some of the features make assault-style weapons moderately more effective at firing high volume (e.g., barrel shrouds allow the barrel to be gripped while hot from firing), but they do not “make assault weapons conducive to criminal applications.” Look, by every common definition, an assault weapon is a rifle with certain features. RIFLES ARE NOT USED IN CRIME TO ANY MEANINGFUL EXTENT. Saying a rifle with a barrel shroud is “conducive to criminal applications” is like saying a bicycle with large tires is “conducive to interstate hauling applications.”

    People who shoot other people are sneaky! They don’t carry around a huge joker of a rifle when they can stuff a pistol in their waistband! See how that works?

    WHEREAS, assault weapons are not among the “Arms” protected by the Second Amendment because they are both “dangerous and unusual,” District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. at 627, and because prohibiting them minimally burdens a prospective plaintiff; hence the ban is constitutional; 

    No again, and this will be the heart of the very expensive and wasteful lawsuit. Mr. Farrar is correct in paying lip service to the “dangerous and unusual” standard from Heller, because that is the standard that the Supreme Court was signaling lower courts to apply.

    But guess what? Assault weapons are neither dangerous nor unusual under this standard.

    Prof. Randy Barnett, Georgetown Law:
    "There's hardly a weapon that's in more common use than the AR-15 so-called assault weapon. I say so-called, because we all know this is a made-up category. They don't fire any faster than a constitutionally protected handgun fires, and it's typically less lethal than a handgun… Because these weapons are in common use, it seems like it would be unconstitutional to ban them, especially given the irrationality of the statute in which cosmetic features are used to distinguish the bad guns from the good guns."

    There are an estimated 5-10 million AR-15 style weapons lawfully owned in America today. They are the most popular style of rifle by some measures. And are they dangerous?

    Well, nationwide there are significantly more fatal beatings (728 in 2011) than fatal shootings by rifle (323), and of those only a fraction would have been by assault-style rifles. So, by any reasonable metric of danger, assault-style weapons are not dangerous.

    Side note: In light of the relative lethality of fists and assault weapons,  is the City Council going to enact an Assault Phalanges Ban next? All finger bones with a “protruding knuckle” or “fingernail shroud” to be confiscated by Chief Eddington?

    WHEREAS, a ban on certain semi-automatic rifles does not prevent a person from keeping a suitable and commonly used weapon for protection in the home or for hunting, whether a handgun or a non-automatic long gun.

    Oh boy. Automatic weapons have been tightly regulated since 1934 and their production has been banned since 1986. They are extremely rare, and for criminal purposes nonexistent. This stupid ordinance has nothing to do with automatic weapons.
    At best this is a typo, but more likely we have people who know nothing about guns writing a gun law.

    WHEREAS, it is difficult to draw meaningful distinctions between the AR-15 (the “civilian” version of the military’s M-16 rifle), which would be an “assault weapon” as defined in this ordinance, and the M-16;

    Can you tell the difference between “one” and “more than one”? Congratulations, you can tell the difference between an AR-15 and a military rifle! If you pull the trigger of an AR-15 and hold it, it will only fire once. If you do the same for an M-16, it will fire until you let go. This is an easily identifiable distinction, no? As noted above, fully automatic rifles like the M-16 are effectively already banned.

    WHEREAS, in Wilson v. The County of Cook, 2012 IL 112026, the Illinois Supreme Court held that certain enumerated characteristics such as “barrel shroud” or “protruding grip” were appropriate features that could define what an “assault weapon” was;

    This is just sloppy, and not what the Illinois Supreme Court said at all. The court said that features like a barrel shroud or protruding grip were specific enough that the law was not unconstitutionally vague; it did not say that the law was valid under the 2nd Amendment and indeed the case is still being argued on that point. Chicago is still paying literally gazillions of dollars fighting that lawsuit (THINK THEY COULD USE THAT MONEY TO SOMEHOW ADDRESS THE 505 MURDERS THEY HAD LAST YEAR, NONE OF WHICH WERE COMMITTED BY RIFLES???).

    There are more problems with the statute as written, but I’ll save those for the lawsuit. For now, let’s back up and think about what intermediate scrutiny actually means. For a law to pass intermediate scrutiny, it must be substantially related to an important government interest.

    Now, the City Council will say they have an important interest in preventing gun violence. OK, Evanston has a significant level of gun violence for a town of its size AND ASSAULT WEAPONS ARE NEVER USED IN THOSE CRIMES. So what in tarnation are they doing? How can this be substantially related to preventing gun crime when assault weapons aren’t used in gun crime?

    Surely, preventing mass shootings must be an important government interest you say? I don’t know; they’re so rare that it seems like the government might as well have the authority to make us all wear rubber hats to prevent us being struck from lightning, and pistols are used as often in mass shootings anyway.

    I can’t guarantee that a lawsuit will prevail in the courts. But the city can’t guarantee a win either, and they are exposing taxpayers to a long, expensive, and wasteful legal process for absolutely no benefit to their constituents’ lives. These people are supposed to be the stewards of the city, and they are pointlessly wasting city money. It’s shameful.

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