Recollections of the Morton Grove Handgun Ban

By Robert Kukla

[This article is a response to Kopel's article on the litigation on the Morton Grove handgun ban. Please see also the response written by Victor Quilici, which Mr. Kukla endorses.]

Dave Kopel's "Secret Weapon"article brought back many memories of that era, some of which I would like to share with the reader.

Mr. Kopel's concern mirrors the apprehension that had existed within the firearms owning fraternity going back at least three decades, namely, that someone, somewhere, sometime, would file an ill conceived Second Amendment lawsuit in what was less than perfect case thereby providing an opportunity for hostile courts to forever obliterate the concept of an individual right to keep and bear arms.

In 1977, that same concern prompted a special meeting of SAAMI (Small Arms & Ammunition Manufacturers Institute), a time when I was Executive Director of the NRA's ILA (Institute for Legislative Action). After much discussion, it was the consensus of the participants that scholarly legal research should be initiated in order to develop a coherent body of legal precedents, arguments, and guide lines that could be made available free of charge to pro-gun attorneys who might someday be faced with litigation involving the Second Amendment.  Unfortunately, as in Aesop's fable about the mice who agreed that, in the interests of their mutual safety it would be helpful to tie a warning bell around the cat's neck, the plan never materialized and the questions were never resolved as to who would undertake the task and how the formidable costs would be allocated.

Along came Morton Grove's proposed handgun ban and the accompanying pandemonium that it fomented among gun owners, not only in that community but in adjacent cities, towns, and villages where it was predicted that other municipalities would soon follow suit like tumbling dominos. Still, Illinois gun owners had a new state equivalent of the federal Second Amendment, adopted during the recent Constitutional Convention, which gun owners hoped would provide a realistic basis for a successful legal challenge, if the handgun ban was actually enacted. Also, many of us assumed that the NRA, with its substantial resources, would seize the moment to carry the battle forward to the highest court. This was, after all, a proposed ban on the mere possession of a handgun, even in private homes for elementary self-defense. It was clearly anathema to everything for which the NRA stood for over a century.

I vividly recall the dark, dreary, somber, rainy night of the Morton Grove City Council's meeting as hundreds of people showed up despite down pouring rain to witness the deliberations, arguments, and the Council's vote. All that was missing was the ominous crackle of lightening and rolling peals of thunder. The Council Chamber was small and could only accommodate several dozen people, however, under pressure from the steadily gathering crowds in the cordoned off streets, the city installed numerous loudspeakers along the periphery of City Hall and the adjacent parkways so those outside, standing for hours under umbrellas in water up to their ankles in the driving rain, could hear every word spoken inside the building.

Inside the small council chambers the spectacle of the affected residents confronting the panel of council members revealed a strangle dichotomy, which speaks volumes.  Many, if not all, of the council members were Jews -- American Jews -- born and raised healthy and well nourished amidst the comfort and security of America, their only familiarity with guns originating from cinema adventures and the elitist gun hating eastern liberal media.  Many of the strident residents, who adamantly and vocally opposed enactment of the handgun ban, also were Jews -- elderly European Jews -- displaced persons from the aftermath of WWII who survived the Holocaust and fled to embrace the freedom offered by America. It was a profoundly visceral experience to look upon their gaunt faces, creased with lines of age and anxiety, and their frail forearms graphically tattooed with serial numbers -- graphic and gruesome evidence of their captivity during WWII as inmates of Nazi Concentration Camps. Better than anyone else in that room, these men and women understood the enormity of what the council was undertaking. They had each personally experienced the ultimate consequence of what can occur when government becomes corrupt and secures a monopoly of power. In the brief moments they were permitted to address to the council members these Holocaust victims expressed their opinions stridently, forcefully, and succinctly -- "Traitors, traitors, traitors!""Shame! Why do you betray your people!?"

The people didn't have a chance. The council voted the handgun ban and that-was-that -- except, not quite for everyone. The rumor quickly surfaced that, within a few days, the wife of the mayor was deputized so that she could legally possess a handgun under the exemption provided for law enforcement officers. Of course, the members of the council were themselves statutorily exempt from the ban, further fueling the sense of outrage and evoking memories of how mass murder and genocide in Nazi Germany and Communist Russia were facilitated by laws banning firearms by all except card carrying party members.

It was assumed by many that the NRA would immediately jump into the fray and challenge the handgun ban in the courts. It did not. There was just ominous silence. There was an uncomfortable feeling that to the outside world Morton Grove and even Illinois were expendable. No one did anything. No one, that is, except attorney Victor Quilici, a gun collector, target shooter, and long time resident of Morton Grove. Vic's depiction of the circumstances of his personal involvement in the resulting court challenge of the Morton Grove ban is exactly how it occurred. This was no vanity lawsuit. Vic Quilici, like so many other pro-gun patriots, has given freely of his time, energy, and money in a lifelong battle to defend the birthright of law-abiding Americans to be secure in the legitimate possession of their firearms, the ultimate badge of freedom.  In reality, Vic Quilici, truly is one of America's pro-gun secret weapons in the fight to preserve our Second Amendment freedom.

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