Editor's note: This piece was originally posted on Guns.com.
Rhonda Ezell founded Chicago Guns Matter as a way to advocate gun ownership in the Windy City but also to give a face to those who want to own a firearm for protection in a city that has become synonymous with gun violence.
“The goal of Chicago Guns Matter is to educate the black and urban communities on how to legally possess and obtain an Illinois concealed carry license, as well as educate them on the plaintiffs who’ve stood up for them and fought for their rights and are still fighting for their rights,” Ezell told Guns.com.
Before launching her campaign, Ezell was the face of a federal lawsuit that made gun ownership in Chicago easier. Her case, Ezell v Chicago, came at an interesting time in her life and the history of gun rights.
Having recently come off life support and the victim of a number of break-ins and threats, Ezell said she wanted to buy a gun for protection and finally saw an opportunity after the Supreme Court handed down the McDonald v Chicago decision. In that case, the high court ruled Chicago’s longtime handgun ban unconstitutional. “When I saw [the news] that you could now own a handgun in the city of Chicago I wanted to comply with that,” Ezell said.
But despite the high court decision, city lawmakers quickly replaced the ban with a system that Ezell would discover had conflicting components that limited gun ownership. The law required that gun owners complete live-fire training to own a handgun but also banned gun ranges within city limits. So, Ezell had to take half the class in the city and then the other half at a range in suburban Dundee. With her health problems, she struggled to make the nearly 100-mile round trip.
Afterward, she started to wonder if the city’s ban on ranges, which made the process to own a handgun difficult, violated her Second Amendment rights. She contacted the Illinois State Rifle Association, in which she was a lifetime member, and the group agreed that they thought her rights were indeed violated. Thus, the case of Ezell v. Chicago was born.
Attorney David Sigale, who served as co-counsel for Ezell, explained the case took seven years as they chipped away at the city’s ban on ranges in one lawsuit and then had to challenge new zoning laws in a second. “The court even stated that the city was ‘trying to be too clever by half’ and was ‘thumbing its municipal nose at the Supreme Court’ in doing what it was doing, and it was blatant,” Sigale said.
They won the second case on appeal in 2017. While the court upheld some provisions set by the city, such as prohibiting ranges within 500 feet of sensitive areas, it struck down others like banning minors from entering a range. Kids can now enter with an adult. “The Ezell case has in many ways set the standard for legality on how Second Amendment cases get analyzed. Is it the only one? No, of course, but is it very important? Yeah,” Sigale said.
Ezell said she is confident that there will soon be the first brick and mortar gun range in the city of Chicago. “Me and my granddaughter are going to be the first ones through the door when it opens,” she said.