Dealer: Chicago gun sales 'a business opportunity'

CHICAGO (AP) — Firearms dealers near Chicago contemplated new business opportunities Tuesday following a federal judge's ruling declaring the city's ban on gun sales unconstitutional.

A day after U.S. District Judge Edmond E. Chang's ruling, it wasn't yet clear whether Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel would continue to defend the ban with an appeal or switch to less-restrictive tactics such as limiting where gun shops locate.

Illinois in July became the nation's last state to approve concealed carry of firearms and established the toughest training regimen. Gun shop owners said Tuesday city firearms sales, combined with the new concealed carry law, would bring down crime rates in Chicago as more law-abiding citizens train to carry guns.

"It's a business opportunity in a great city," Barry Soskin, who owns a suburban gun shop named Article II Range, said of the judge's ruling. While he's not sure if he would open a gun store in Chicago, he hopes someone does and he's not worried about the competition.

"When was the last time you heard about a bar owner on Rush Street who was pissed off there was a bar next door?" he said. "Competition breeds business."

But local restrictions could dampen enthusiasm for opening gun stores in Chicago, said Greg Tropino, owner of GAT Guns in East Dundee. In suburban Chicago, a $25 Cook County tax on gun purchases took effect last year. The tax has been challenged in court by gun shop owners, but it would apply to any gun shop that might open in Chicago.

"If you can't make it illegal, you tax it to death," Tropino said.

The intent of Chicago's ban has been to reduce gun violence. The city led the nation in homicides in 2012 with more than 500, but in 2013 the city recorded the fewest killings since 1965 and saw its overall crime rate fall to level not seen since 1972.

Monday's ruling gave the city one week to file a notice of appeal while also temporarily staying the effects of the ruling until at least then. Chang set a status hearing for Jan. 14 and, in his ruling, suggested some additional breathing room for Chicago leaders to readjust their strategy.

"Even if the City were to decide not to appeal, the City should have a limited time, before the judgment becomes effective to consider and enact other sales-and-transfer restrictions short of a complete ban," the judge wrote.

Tight restrictions on gun shops could include barring them from neighborhoods beset by gang violence or blocks close to schools, said Stephanie Gordon of Chicago, the Illinois leader of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

"We strongly encourage the city to appeal," Gordon said, "but there are other scenarios we've discussed such as strong zoning requirements" that would limit where a licensed gun dealer could open a shop.

Other anti-violence advocates also urged an appeal. The Rev. Ira Acree of Greater St. John Bible Church in Chicago's violence-plagued Austin neighborhood called on the mayor to "fight back on all fronts."

"While it's a major victory for the (National Rifle Association), it's an awful defeat for the families and citizens of our world class city," Acree said in an email. "My hope and prayer is that Mayor Emanuel appeals this decision to the higher courts."

Most of the guns recovered in crimes by Chicago Police originate in Cook County or Indiana, said Roseanna Ander, executive director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab, which has analyzed police department data for the city. But it's unclear how the guns go from legal purchase to use in a crime, Ander said.

"It is fair to say that proximity matters," Ander said. "Gun stores in Chicago will probably increase both legal and illegal guns in Chicago."