Oak Park residents for and against new gun restrictions squared off Tuesday night as the Board of Health continues its study of possible new rules and restrictions on weapon ownership.
For nearly 90 minutes, a mostly respectful crowd — they were asked to refrain from applause — crammed the council chambers as residents gave the first inkling of how the community debate could shape up over the village’s response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision that nearly two years ago tossed out Oak Park’s long-standing handgun ban.
Many who addressed the board said more rules would unnecessary, with some arguing local legislation would saddle Oak Park with legal fights and court costs, and would do nothing to make the community safer.
Joel Lowrie disagreed with the idea of requiring safety or trigger locks.
“If you have to use a firearm in self-defense...you couldn’t get the lock off in time if your life is in danger," he said.
Edward Ferraro said Oak Park should be doing more to control gangs than guns, adding that the village's board of health should focus on public health issues “not gun issues."
Chip Buerger, a World War II re-enactor, framed it this way: “You’re not going to pass any rules and regulations that the criminal element will obey,” he said. “There will be lawsuits and costs associated with this. Enforce the laws that are already on the books.”
Largely absent from Tuesday's meeting were Oak Park's vocal anti-gun crowd, and those in favor of new firearm regulations.
Still, other residents expressed over the possibility of new gun shops opening close to parks, schools and day care centers.
Jim Kelly, a South Oak Parker who lives by the recently opened on Roosevelt Road — blocks from West Suburban Montessori School and two blocks from Elementary School — noted that in the 18 months since the McDonald v. Chicago decision, the village hasn't made a move on restricting certain locations for gun shops.
“There is no prohibition against keeping businesses from locating here, but you can keep them from areas like this,” Kelly said.
More than 200 people, including several trustees and police officers attended the meeting. Supporters of the , in response to a notice that went out on its website, appeared to show up in numbers.
Police were on hand to keep order if necessary, but according to Chief , uniformed officers were at the meeting because “the topic is of interest to all of us."
Oak Park's Board of Health, a panel of volunteers who advise the public health department, was asked to examine gun safety, education, training and licensing requirements in other Illinois communities to see if those measures could stand up to any legal challenges from gun rights advocates. The panel’s task began in September.
Recommendations on gun safety, training and education will go to the Oak Park Village Board sometime this winter, said Margaret Provost-Fyfe, the director of the public health department.
The committee, however, will only provide public comments, but not guidance, on zoning issues. Village Manager Tom Barwin noted that would be studied by the legal department.
While the Supreme Court ruling overturned Chicago and Oak Park’s restrictions on handgun ownership, some village ordinances regulating weapons still remain, including restrictions on the sale, loaning, rental or give-away of firearms, assault weapons or assault ammunition.