Steve Chapman

Last week, the body of Chicago school board president Michael Scott was found in the Chicago River with a single bullet wound in his head. The big story was that this powerful, well-connected public official had, according to the county medical examiner, committed suicide. The less-noticed story was that he did it with an illegal weapon.

After all, handgun ownership is not allowed in the city of Chicago, which has one of the strictest gun control laws in the country, and Scott killed himself with a .380-caliber sidearm.

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Unlike most Chicagoans, Scott could have been a legal handgun owner. Because he had it before the ban was enacted, he was allowed to register and keep it. But the police department says he never did. By having it in the city, Scott was guilty of an offense that could have gotten him jail time.

Amazingly enough, he was not the first local public official to take the view that firearms restrictions are something for other, ordinary people to observe. Chicago politicians are zealously committed to gun control in law but fairly relaxed about it in practice.

In 1994, State Sen. Rickey Hendon had an unregistered handgun stolen from his home in a burglary, and he didn't feign contrition about his disregard of the ordinance.

"I have a right to protect myself," he declared, noting that he had been burglarized before -- and forgetting that the state legislature of which he is a member allows Illinois cities to deprive their citizens of that right. Asked if he would replace the lost piece, Hendon said, "No comment." The police were kind enough not to charge him.

U.S. Sen. Roland Burris, another Chicagoan, has endorsed a nationwide ban on handguns and, in 1993, organized Chicago's first Gun Turn-in Day. But the following year, while running unsuccessfully for governor, he admitted he owned a handgun -- "for protection," he explained -- and hadn't seen fit to turn it in along with those other firearms. Lesser mortals apparently can protect themselves with forks and spoons.


Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.
 

 
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