Chicago's Pointless Handgun Ban

Why draconian gun control laws never work


When Chicago passed a ban on handgun ownership in 1982, it was part of a trend. Washington, D.C. had done it in 1976, and a few Chicago suburbs took up the cause in the following years. They all expected to reduce the number of guns and thus curtail bloodshed.

District of Columbia Attorney General Linda Singer told The Washington Post in 2007, "It's a pretty common-sense idea that the more guns there are around, the more gun violence you'll have." Nadine Winters, a member of the Washington city council in 1976, said she assumed at the time that the policy "would spread to other places."

But the fad never really caught fire—even before last summer, when the Supreme Court struck down the D.C. law and cast doubt on the others, including the Chicago ordinance before the court Tuesday. The Second Amendment may kill such restrictions, but in most places, it wasn't needed to keep them from hatching in the first place.

Maybe that's because there were so many flaws in the basic idea. Or maybe it was because strict gun control makes even less sense at the municipal level than it does on a broader scale. At any rate, the policy turned out to be a comprehensive dud.

In the years following its ban, Washington did not generate a decline in gun murders. In fact, the number of killings rose by 156 percent—at a time when murders nationally increased by just 32 percent. For a while, the city vied regularly for the title of murder capital of America.

Chicago followed a similar course. In the decade after it outlawed handguns, murders jumped by 41 percent, compared to an 18 percent rise in the entire United States.

One problem is that the bans didn't actually have any discernible effect on the availability of guns to people with felonious intent. As with drugs and hookers, when there is a demand for guns, there will always be a supply.

Who places the highest value on owning a firearm? Criminals. Who is least likely to fear being prosecuted for violating the law? Criminals. Who is most likely to have access to illicit dealers? You guessed it.

If we were starting out in a country with zero guns, it might be possible to keep such weapons away from bad guys. But that's not this country, which has more than 200 million firearms in private hands and a large perpetual supply of legal handguns.

Only a tiny percentage of those weapons has to be diverted to the underground trade for crooks to acquire all the firepower they need. While gun bans greatly impede the law-abiding, they pose only a trivial inconvenience to the lawless.

This is especially true at the local level. Banning guns from one city makes about as much sense as banning them on one block.

It's hard enough to halt the flow of guns over international borders, where governments police traffic. It's impossible to stop them from crossing municipal boundaries—which are unmonitored, undefended, and practically invisible.

Tens of thousands of cars enter Washington and Chicago each day from places where guns are easily and legally obtainable. Any of those vehicles could be transporting a carton of pistols to sell to willing thugs. If you're on an island, you're going to get splashed by the waves.

The proponents obviously knew all along this city-by-city approach had serious shortcomings. But they figured it was bound to curtail gun availability somewhat. They also hoped that by prohibiting handguns in one place, they were beginning a bigger process.

First, they expected that other cities and states would follow suit. Second, they wagered that strict controls at the local level would acclimate Americans to new regulations at the national level.

But things didn't work out that way. The persistence of crime in supposedly gun-free zones didn't build support for broader gun control by showing the limits of piecemeal legislation. It weakened the case, by proving that such regulations have little impact on the people who present the biggest danger. Instead of a broad upward avenue, it was a dead end.

Gun control supporters fear that if the Supreme Court invalidates local handgun bans, the consequences will be nothing but bad. That would be easier to believe if the laws had ever done any good.


NEXT: That Old Black Magic

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Good Morning reason!

    1. Where do you see reason?

  2. We all know this already, but I guess it's good to hear it again once in a while.

  3. This does not belong in here, it belongs in Mayor Daly's inbox, many, many, times over.

    1. Sure if you want to waste your time talking to a shit for brains.

    2. To say nothing of the Brady Campaign folks 😀

  4. It is irrelevant that these kind of laws are ineffective and, at best, disarm the law abiding making them even more vulnerable to criminals. What is important is that they send a message. The real purpose of all prohibitions, in as much as only a complete imbecile would think they could ever do any actual good, is to "send a message".

    1. And the message is:

      "Bow down to your betters, serf."

  5. Guns are a symbol of individual power. That's why some people love them and others hate them.

    1. In that context it's tough not to see Daley as the spiritual descendant of those haughty aristocrats who hanged arquebusiers - and crossbowmen before them - for perverting the natural order of things. Peasants should not be able to strike down their betters!

      1. Or the Samurai. Very inciteful.

    2. To the weak or just those with a small penis?

  6. I love how Daley II was trying to turn it around .. "Would the justices like it if i walked into their chambers with a gun, why not."
    Go into ANY courthouse in Cook County and they have metal detectors. I highly doubt anyone has a problem with it and this will not change.
    It's about having a gun in your HOME in your CAR.
    A good thing that Chapman is published in the Chicago Tribune. King Richard will certainly hear this.

    1. Then a plan to discredit Chapman will be launched by The Machine? to shut him up. When that doesn't work his office will be bombed and he will flee Chicago by train to the Rocky Mountains.

      Maybe he will meet a nice girl to help him appreciate nature?

      1. Someone has been reading Atlas Shrugged.

    2. [repeating a story I think I have posted here a few times before - deal with it]

      When KY passed the concealed carry law in the 90s, amongst the excluded places was the state house and senate chambers and committee rooms, but not the offices. After 9/11, metal detectors were added at the state capital building. People would walk up, pull out their concealed handgun, hand it to the guard, walk thru the detector, get the gun back, reconceal it. It happened enough that they quickly got rid of the metal detectors.

  7. Hmmm...... Lets see. When I lived in Chicago when the handgun ban was fully in place I had a Dessert Eagle put to my head. Then robbed. Then pistol whipped to the point where my face was split open and I was bleeding so bad you could follow my blood trail from where it happened all the way back to my apartment.

    I sure wish I was able to be carrying then. 🙂

    1. The community provides free mugging advice. Guessing you didn't have your glare down or your stick wasn't big enough? The police there probably have a pamphlet on mugging too.

      Check the link. She even wears a hijab, so she must know what she is talking about 🙂

      1. bwahahaha!!! I nearly pee'd myself there! So I shouldn't have put on my sunglasses and said "I know Kung Fu" in my best Keanu Reeves voice? Or maybe Lincoln Park muggers respond differently to the ones in Hyde Park?

        1. I really did try to find the Chicago police advice first and found that instead.

          Pure speculation, the cops will advise you to comply. The sort of like us behaving all the time. In their DNA I think.

          1. Actually in one case where i might have needed a handgun (my friends car broke down in a pretty sketchy hood): After checking us out the tactical officer suggested .... "If you have a gun, put it in your lap"

          2. Well I didn't exactly comply. That's why I was pistol whipped. But they said I handled myself pretty well. What's sad though was my friend, who helped me get to the hospital, overheard when the cops were leaving after interviewing me. It was them basically debating if they should bother searching for the guy.

      2. Wait, Hyde Park has a crime blog? Seriously? The world must have run out of adorable cats, if people are reduced to this.

        Though I see it had one post in the entirety of 2009... that makes me feel better, somehow.

    2. Sorry you went through this, dave, but I laughed a li'l bit at 'Dessert' Eagle. =)

      Wherever you are now, I hope your 2A rights are less-infringed.

      1. Thanks Byron, yeah the police kind of laughed at me too. I just remember that triangular head on the gun. The DE is the only one I know of that looks like that.

        Yep, I live in Ohio now. We have concealed carry. Although, just about every public establishment has that little sign on the door saying that I cannot bring a small arsenal in with me. 🙁

        1. What is the Ohio rule on that sign? In KY, it means nothing. A place can ask you to leave for carrying and you are trespassing if you dont, but otherwise, walking by a sign that says "NO guns" means nothing legally.

          1. Sounds like the Georgia rule on signs.

        2. And those little signs don't mean anything without metal detectors to back them up. There's a reason it's referred to as "concealed carry."

    3. Face it Dave, you were asking for it. Slut.

      1. You're right. I really need to stop dressing up in drag.

    4. It's a small price to pay for living in a safer city.

    5. so you could get into a gun fight!!!

  8. people who want gun control never want the kind of gun control that would take guns from criminals. When Guiliania was mayor in NYC, he instituted alot of programs designed to stop crimes before the criminals committed them. People who jumped turnstiles for instance would be looked up to see if they had records or were wanted and would be searched for guns. Turned out many were carrying. Liberals objected to this as an fascist assault on right, particuarly since the majority of persons implicated were black or hispanic.

    The aim seems to be to keep guns out of the hands of the law abiding.

    1. But of course. Don't you know that if someone breaks into your house that it's because you were a winner and they were a loser in the evil game known as capitalism? Further, pulling a gun on them is only a perpetuation of your previous crimes against the downtrodden, displayed now in it's most basic and primal form? Yeah, you could consider how tough the invader's life has been and comply, in which case he'd probably go ahead and kill you anyway. Thems the breaks. Nobody said that fairness could be achieved without sacrifice, now did they?

      1. It's not like you can just ignore the social, cultural, and historical factors that contribute to crime. In the real world, the idea that everyone who "wins" does so because they're better, smarter, and worked harder, and that those who "lose" do so because they're all lazy and corrupt, simply ignores common sense. But even if the invader's life sucks due to no fault of his own, it in no way gives him the right to invade, and you clearly have every right to defend yourself.

        I doubt any emotionally mature adult would feel like much of a holier-than-thou, John-Galt-type bada$$ after having to actually take another person's life, though, no matter the circumstances.

    2. Yes. The laws mollify those who live in terror that some of the people around them carrying concealed weapons may be doing so legally.

  9. Who breaks the law? You guessed it...criminals.

    Who is most likely to kill you on purpose? Yup, murderers.

    And who is most likely to sit around all day doing crossword puzzles, drinking scotch, waiting for the mailman and telling me I'm no good because I have a dream to become a wall street investment banker/superhero? My dad.

  10. Everyone I know think it's okay to own kitchen knives. Nobody I know think it's okay to own atom bombs. So we've established that access to deadly weapons is okay, yes, kitchen knives (or garden spades...or rocks, for that matter) are deadly weapons. And we've also established that their should be limits to freedom. So the question is where the limit is set.

    My limit? I think handgun bans are dumb but the ban on machine guns is reasonable. But there is truth in the logic that when you ban machine guns only criminals will own them. Same with atom bombs.

    So should democracies have the power to limit access to deadly weapons? Yes.

    If you ban atom bombs only criminals have them.

    1. Which particular "ban" on machine guns are you talking about?

      It is perfectly legal under federal law and in most states for individuals to own fully automatic weapons. Yes, you have to jump through many hoops and some of them are high, but once through, you can own a machine gun.

      There is no outright "ban" on private ownership of machine guns.

      1. Those hoops make a gun that many of us could otherwise afford too expensive to look at.

      2. You're right, as is Suki.

      3. Try buying a full auto manufactured after 1986. Those were banned, while the existing inventory was handled under the NFA. The good news, if you live under the jurisdiction of the Sixth Circuit, the law there is that you can't be charged with an NFA violation since the court ruled the Hughes Amendment rendered it void (i.e. the govt cannot simultaneously "regulate" and ban a thing).

        1. Good point--I don't lie awake at night wishing for full auto but it would be cool to own one or two. But what's on my wish list--a real M4 and HK MP5 10mm--were made after 1986.

      4. Revised Code of Washington State 9.41.190
        Unlawful firearms ? Exceptions.

        (1) It is unlawful for any person to manufacture, own, buy, sell, loan, furnish, transport, or have in possession or under control, any machine gun, short-barreled shotgun, or short-barreled rifle.

        1. A rifle with a 9 inch barrel kills you so much deader than one with a 16 inch barrel it's not even funny.

    2. of course they should - because ALL weapons are deadly weapons. Even bazookas and atom bombs.

      What they should NOT have the power to do is limit access to DEFENSIVE weapons.

      High-caliber automatic weapons, and weapons involving explosives are primarily OFFENSIVE weapons. These can be banned because they are OFFENSIVE. There are somewhat clear criteria that differentiate what can and cannot be banned while still respecting people's right to own weapons of self-defense. If a weapon can knock down concrete buildings, it isn't a defensive weapon.

      But on the other hand it's a good idea to let the citizens own SOME offensive weapons, just to keep that check on power.

      1. Your idea offensive and defensive weapons is fuzzy. Deterrence is defensive but doesn't preclude the use of "high-caliber automatic weapons and weapons involving explosives" As in, try to hurt me and I'll blow up your house.

      2. But on the other hand it's a good idea to let the citizens own SOME offensive weapons, just to keep that check on power.

        Three letters.

        I E D

      3. Black Jack Pershing said:
        The best defense is a good offense!

      4. Edwin's comment is offensive.

      5. Actually, it's not offensive/defensive, it's what are considered to be light infantry-type weapons. Being that the weapons that were considered to be "arms" were those of the type that a militiaman (essentially analogous to infantry) would have, that seems to me to be a reasonable estimation of what "arms" are covered under the 2A.

        As Tench Coxe said, the militia's "swords and every terrible implement of the soldier are the birthright of Americans."

        Thinking back to that time period, we're talking rifles, shotguns, sidearms and small, portable cannons and mortars.

        Applying the same analogy today, the 2A should cover, at the very least, revolvers and semi-auto handguns of just about every description, and pretty much any long gun. There will always be debate about the full autos, I suppose.

      6. What happens when we need to defend ourselves from our own military? It might be a good idea to have some "offensive" weapons around.

    3. Impressive. In a few short sentences, you managed to commit two common logical fallacies and state the obvious. Thanks for your input.

  11. I should note that many gun banners, like Chuck Schumer, have armed bodyguard details or concealed-carry permits.

    Can you imagine media outrage if most politicians at the forefront of banning same-sex "marriage" went to the Netherlands or Spain or Vermont to "marry" their gay lovers? Would not the media call them out on the hypocrisy? Why does not the media call out Daley and Schumer for their hypocrisy?

    1. Because they're democrats.

      1. Why would the media cover for Democrats and gun banners?

        1. Because most of the media are Democrats and gun banners.

          1. How did Democrats and gun grabbers dominate the media?

            1. See what he did there?

    2. Also when a Chuck Shumer calls the Police, they actually listen and respond.

  12. So the government wants to prohibit me from owning a gun? Fine. I will comply just as soon as every single government employee disarms. Police officer? Disarmed. FBI / Secret Service / Treasury agent? Disarmed. Then we'll talk.

  13. "they wagered that strict controls at the local level would acclimate Americans to new regulations at the national level."


    Gun control is not about the guns as much as it is about the control.

    1. Quite the opposite, in fact: the ban on handgun ownership by another Chicago area municipality and the refusal of the Supreme Court to touch that resulted in most states (I think, even California) passing preemption laws.

  14. "Second, they wagered that strict controls at the local level would acclimate Americans to new regulations at the national level."

    I don't know if that is as true as believing that their next logical argument was "too many guns are slipping over our borders and so we need a national gun ban". A little like the ubiquitous rationalization for the repeated failure of socialist/social welfare policies--"we just didn't go far enough/spend enough money/take enough individual freedom".

  15. Every time this issue comes up, I'm reminded of a scene from "All in the Family."
    Meathead: Arch, didn't you know that over 10,000 murders last year were committed with hand guns?

    Archie: Would you rather they was pushed out of windows?

  16. I agree with the sentiment, but Mr. Chapman utterly misunderstands why Chicago has a handgun ban. The fact citizens are now disarmed and at the mercy of criminals is a feature, not a bug. The alderman who pushed hardest for the ban, back in the day, was Fred Roti. Roti was a made member of the Chicago mob, according to racketeering indictments in 1999 and afterwards. See for the whole sordid tale, including primary source references.

    In a nutshell:

    1) Mob member Roti backs handgun ban.
    2) Mob member Roti's family owns William Hanhardt, who was appointed Chief of Detectives for the Chicago Police Department.
    3) Hanhardt uses his position to run a jewelry theft ring for the mob for years.
    4) Handgun ban makes the thefts much much safer.

    Yes, it sounds tinfoil hattish ... but go to the link. It's all well documented.

    Although the public support for the measure undoubtedly followed the script Mr. Chapman lays out, the real reason for the ban is much darker than he seems to understand.


    1. Interesting stuff.
      Some is news to me ... but i'm nowhere near surprised.

  17. "High-caliber automatic weapons, and weapons involving explosives are primarily OFFENSIVE weapons. These can be banned because they are OFFENSIVE."

    That's not what the Constitution says. The 2nd Amendment makes no such exception. See also Article 1 Section 8 which defines the missions of the militia.

    "To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions"

    Arms used for those missions are what is protected by the 2nd Amendment. There is no difference between what the government uses and what the people can have. Read the Militia Act of 1792 - our first national law on the militia to get a sense of what the founders intended. Simply put, this means M-16s and M-9s for all citizens at a minimum.

    As an aside, let's note that all able-bodied males ages 17-45 are ALREADY members of the federal militia under 10 USC 311.

    1. D^MN! I'm too old for the Federal Militia? Oh well, I guess my 20 years active duty military duty makes up fos that somewhat.
      Where do I sign up to get my M16 and M9 issued? Although I'd rather get a M1 Garand and a M1911 pistol, if I had my druthers!

      1. Only statists get their guns issued from the government.

    2. Most Korean grocers used automatic weapons to defend their shops during the LA riots. They can be useful against armed drug muels crossing the border unlawfully as well.

  18. I look forward to a world where "good" nations like the US will have no nukes. Sort of a global gun control as envisioned by Obama.

    1. Don't be surprised if he gives ours to Iran, for fairness.

  19. I'm not sure why Steve deferred to a nationwide ban. Criminals can easily make weapons from basic materials, and a substantial percentage of weapons used in crime are home made. To have a working ban you'd have to prohibit posession of all metal objects.

    1. Nope. Even that wouldn't do it. Have you seen the stuff criminals make in prisons? Properly treated, even styrofoam cups can be rendered into surprisingly effective weapons.

      Keep in mind the old Simpsons Treehouse episode where everyone gives up their weapons and world peace breaks out. The new alien overlords can take over with a couple of sticks.

      No ban would ever be truly effective. If I'm a criminal and you're prohibited from having any weapon at all, I still don't care, and my pointed stick still wins.

      Sucks, but there it is.

  20. In this article Chicago Mayor Daley said, "Why can't I go see my congressman who doesn't believe in gun laws? Why can't I carry my gun into congressmen's offices or go to his home and knock on his door and say, 'Don't be worried. I have a gun. You want me to have a gun.'"

    Down here in Texas, we do. I was at my congressman's local office recently. His assistant knows me well enough that she expected me to be carrying. We carry into the State Capital to our legislator's offices. I've also carried (and haven't been the only one) in private homes during campaign fundraisers.

    If Daley wants to find out how most of the country lives he's welcome to bring a gun or two to my house. I'll take him out to the range for some practice. Heck, if he can show me he knows the firearm safety rules I might even lend him one of mine.

    Of course, I'll be carrying too. That might not be to hizzonor's liking.

  21. Just look at the Australian example of extreme gun control laws, oh wait, what, 'er' please ignore the very low statistic for gun related crimes in Australia. Americans reserve the the right to be a bunch of tiny dick gun nuts.

    1. citation needed for Australian crime rates, as well as penis size and rate of insanity of American gun owners.

  22. If you look at the cities that have the most handgun restrictions you see cities that have a high proportion of Blacks. Gun control laws have their roots in White people keeping guns out of the hands of Black people. This use to be a southern thing, and now it is a northern thing. It's about racism, not guns.

  23. Too bad we can't have the real conversation here. A few people have hinted at it, such as the person who brought up kitchen knives vs. atom bombs, the person trying to explain offensive vs. defensive weapons, and the person who mentioned Australia. The real, vital conversation is about where to draw the line that prohibits ownership of various weapons.

    Why is it that private ownership of more powerful military-type "arms" (artillery, bombs, missiles) is not protected by the 2nd Amend, but certain kinds of firearms are? Where is that spelled out in law, and does it make sense? And why do other first-world nations, who have mostly drawn the line at a point so as to prohibit gun ownership, still have low rates of gun crime? How does that not argue against our cause? As the article brought up, are we a special case because of the number of guns already in our country?

    I've been a gun owner my whole life, and I love the fact that I can own and shoot non-hunting firearms ("assault rifles" and such) recreationally. But I have a hard time trying to justify it beyond the fact that -- lucky for me! -- the 2nd Amendment, as currently interpreted by the courts and in legal precedent, says it's okay.

  24. Its really luky to find this blog,i fell so great!
    additas i love it,i support you always!
    the style always fashional!
    passenger by sunglasses

  25. Its really luky to find this blog,i fell so great!
    additas i love it,i support you always!
    the style always fashional!
    passenger by sunglasses

  26. I just need this, Well done! Many thanks.

  27. Gun control is the silliest idea. Its advocates have good intentions, obviously. But the end result is that the only people with guns are criminals. When criminals are more powerful than the rest of the population, they run rampant. The statistics from Washington after its gun ban was instituted show this very clearly.

  28. the person trying to explain offensive vs. defensive weapons, and the person who mentioned Australia. The real, vital conversation is about where to draw the line that prohibits ownership of various weapons

  29. Eh bien, je suis un bon poste watcher vous pouvez dire et je ne donne pas une seule raison de critiquer ou de donner une bonne critique ? un poste. Je lis des blogs de 5 derni?res ann?es et ce blog est vraiment bon cet ?crivain a les capacit?s pour faire avancer les choses i aimerais voir nouveau poste par vous Merci
    ????? ???

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.