- Associated Press - Thursday, January 19, 2017

CHICAGO (AP) - The city of Chicago is grappling with another in a series of defeats in its bid to regulate guns and tamp down gun violence, this time after a federal appeals court said its restrictions on publicly accessible gun ranges violated the Second Amendment.

Chicago officials have long blamed the proliferation of guns for persistently high homicide rates - there were more than 760 last year - and have struggled to craft laws acceptable to the courts ever since the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010 struck the city’s total ban on guns.

This latest ruling by the 7th U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago is also notable for who wrote the majority opinion that is being heralded by gun-rights advocates. Diane Sykes is a self-described conservative jurist and was on President-elect Donald Trump’s short list of 11 potential nominees to fill a vacant seat on the nation’s highest court.

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If citizens have constitutionally protected rights to own guns, authorities can’t then thwart their attempts to learn how to properly use them, the 19-page opinion, issued late Wednesday, contends.

“Range training is not categorically outside the Second Amendment,” Sykes wrote. “To the contrary, it lies close to the core of the individual right of armed defense.”

A three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit deemed three restrictions at the heart of Chicago’s ordinance unconstitutional: One that restricts public gun ranges to manufacturing areas, one that bans minors from such ranges and a third that set limits on how close ranges can be to schools, parks and places of worship.

In a brief statement sent Thursday on behalf of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the city expressed disappointment in the ruling. It didn’t mention available legal options, which could include an appeal to the Supreme Court, saying only that the city is “evaluating the next steps.”

“The last thing we need are more guns around the city, which is why we are doing everything we can to keep guns away from schools and communities,” it says.

Among the city’s justifications was that the ranges can produce airborne lead contamination, as well as pose fire hazards and attract gun thieves. But Sykes’ majority opinion said the city offers little or no proof for those claims, writing that it “continues to assume … that it can invoke these interests as a general matter and call it a day.”

The toughest regulations don’t apply to the law enforcement and security-company gun ranges within the city limits. The 7th Circuit noted not a single gun range for use by the general public has managed to open in Chicago.

A lead lawyer for the gun advocates in the case, Alan Gura, said in an emailed statement Thursday that Chicago officials asserted “wild claims” about the risks of gun ranges and that city lawmakers focus too much on blaming guns.

“City resources would be better spent improving policing and addressing the root causes of crime,” Gura said.

The court ruled there was no justification for outright banning anyone under 18 years from gun ranges, saying there could be sound reasons for a child joining a parent to better understand the safe use of weapons. Its ruling said the city can establish a “more closely tailored age restriction” that doesn’t completely prohibit minors.

Judge Ilana Rovner agreed in large part with her fellow judges on the panel, but disagreed over striking distance requirements, writing in her partial dissent that they weren’t insurmountable obstacles to opening gun ranges.

She concurred the city’s blanket prohibition on minors was unconstitutional, but Rovner highlighted the real dangers of gun ranges. She pointed to a 2014 incident at an Arizona shooting range where a 9-year-old girl accidentally killed an instructor when an Uzi she fired recoiled upward and a bullet hit the 39-year-old man in the head.

Citing 4,638 shootings in Chicago in 2016, Rovner also “expressed sympathy for the City’s difficult path” to both find ways of reducing gun violence and ensuring its gun ordinances conform to the Constitution.


Follow Michael Tarm on Twitter at @mtarm.

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