The Continuing Saga of Gun Ownership in Chicago

I learned how to shoot the old-fashioned way. I was about 10 or 11 when I timidly shouldered the Savage youth model .22/.410 my grandfather gave me, my father patiently guiding me to correct stance and sight picture with his steady hand. The first few .22 LR rounds I squeezed off missed their target entirely, but I slowly brought my gun to bear, smiling with delight as the soda pop cans lined up jumped up in the humid Everglades air.

Most of my experiences as a gun owner and shooter were in Florida, a state that is commonly defined as “permissive” as it relates to firearm ownership. I even held a concealed carry permit for a few years. In Florida’s thriving gun culture, my personal firearm collection grew to include several handguns, a carbine or two and a shotgun. Gun shows were frequent and easy to get to, and at any given time I could go shoot at a range right up the street or drive out to the Everglades and the world was my gun club.

Then I got older, I found a career and I moved to Chicagoland—and let’s just say it was a culture shock. I first moved to a northern suburb of Chicago where the firearm ownership laws were just as draconian and restrictive as the big city immediately to the south.

In the cold north, mere possession of my gun collection alone put me on the wrong side of the law. No handguns. Period. Long guns were permitted, but only if they had a meager ammunition capacity and they were always stored disassembled.

I was at a loss. I thought about trying to sell my collection, but I was worried that admitting I had the guns in the first place, even to offer them for sale, would land me in hot water. I was in the dark, and I knew little about the laws in Illinois, Chicago, and its suburbs. In and of itself, this would have been okay save for the fact that no one had any straight answers for me. I talked to a lot of people at the time, and those who didn’t look at me like I was crazy quietly confessed that they were in my same predicament.

It seemed at the time as if gun ownership in the Chicago area was a white elephant and then someone broke into my car.  It was during the three-ring circus that followed that a responding police officer offhandedly suggested I ‘get a gun.’ Little did he know and little did I but it was a start.

After a few months of trying to figure out how to finagle this, my Illinois Firearm Ownership Identification Card, affectionately called a FOID (application here), arrived in the mail. At the time, the must-have ID card wasn’t as end all be all as its name may imply, particularly when you live within reach of the long arm of Cook County Courthouse. A FOID card is required in Illinois to purchase ammunition and shoot at ranges, but actual ownership and where you can have a gun were left largely where they lay. I went shooting a few times, but felt like I was forever looking over my shoulder when I was taking my guns to and from the car. What a way to live. And to exacerbate matters, by this time I had moved to downtown Chicago. Eventually I sold the bulk of my collection to a dealer in the suburbs, just so I wouldn’t have to worry about them anymore.

I did, however, keep my Glock 27, my Ruger Vaquero and my Remington 870 shotgun, so I was basically just as guilty as if I’d kept the whole kit and kaboodle as I continued to flout the law. And, more tragically, it was about this time that I packed these last remnants of my life as an amateur shooter away, and, at least for the time being, the gun-loving part of my personality.

Then in 2008, the wheels of justice started turning. The Supreme Court overturned the District of Columbia’s handgun ban, and not long after that, Chicago resident Otis McDonald voiced his need for a handgun to protect his home and family in a crime-riddled South Side neighborhood, challenging Chicago’s long-standing handgun ban. After what seemed like forever (it was more like a year-and-a-half), the Supreme Court struck down Chicago’s handgun ban on June 28, 2010.

What a relief. It was about two weeks later when the City of Chicago Police Department released new gun registration procedures for city residents. In order to legally own handguns in Chicago, you now needed a Chicago Firearms Permit. The requirements to get a permit? A valid FOID (check), a pair of passport photos (check), eight hours of firearms safety training … what? Kind of unexpected, but OK—I’m all about training and since I had just gone through a shooting “dry-spell,” I though a little training and range time would do me some good.

The class was interesting enough. Taught at a suburban gun shop/pistol range, 12 of us anxious city dwellers, a very diverse group, crowded around to get some old-school, hardcore firearms safety training from a grizzled, retired police officer and firearms instructor. He taught straight out of the NRA safety book. The city also requires each applicant shoots 50 rounds on the range, which we did under close supervision, shooing .38 double-action revolvers, squeezing off rounds at the instructors whistle. The eight hours flew by, and we all sat raptly as he signed our affidavits.

So after gathering copies of my FOID and driver’s license, my training affidavit, photos, the completed application form, and a money order for $100 (it wouldn’t be Chicago without a fee), I delivered my application in person to the CPD’s document facility. Ten days later, the application I filled out was mailed back to me with one of my photos affixed to it, and embossed with a CPD seal.

Now I was free to register my guns, filling out an application for each, and paying an annual $15 per gun fee. Finally, I was a legal Chicago gun owner. Mind you, registered guns are only permitted within the walls of a person’s residence, in my case, a large studio apartment. Once you take your gun out of your residence, you are violating the law—technically. You might ask, how am I supposed to get my guns to and from the range? Under the letter of the law it’s technically illegal to bring home a purchased gun.

It may be far from perfect, and Chicago’s new gun regulations are already facing several legal challenges, but for many residents of Chicago, it’s a step in the right direction—I guess.