On April 12 the attention of the United States, and indeed much of the world, was focused upon the Chicago mayoral election, the result of which both commentators and politicians agree will have far-reaching effects upon American politics. But that was not the only election held in Cook County on April 12.
Fourteen miles north of Chicago's city hall the results of suburban Morton Grove's election for village trustees will also have far-reaching political implications throughout the country. Lost amid the media tumult of the mayoral race in Chicago was the election for three seats on the Morton Grove Board of Trustees, the legislative body which in June 1981 enacted the country's first law severely restricting the private ownership of handguns.
The handgun control ordinance was proposed, discussed, and enacted in direct response to the local pleas of residents who objected when the opening of a gun store in their neighborhood was proposed. The ordinance was passed by the Village Board of Trustees despite threats against their political futures and the other familiar manifestations of the mythically invincible gun lobby.
All of the emotional arguments employed by this particular special-interest group were applied in Morton Grove: i.e., handgun control is unconstitutional; everyone needs unlimited access to handguns to protect themselves against all forms of evildoers; crime will run rampant if handgun control laws are enacted; without unregulated access to handguns America will fall to the communists; the police will be knocking down your front door searching for handguns; handgun control is the precursor of the police state; and more such rhetoric designed to instill and sustain a powerful fear in the hearts and minds of Americans.
The gun lobby's tactics have been effective, although their successes have been exaggerated, when aimed at full-time legislators who harbor aspirations for higher office. But the lobby failed when applying its emotional pressure against a small municipality's part-time mayor and trustees whose only aspirations are to directly serve the needs of their neighbors.
After losing in Morton Grove, the gun lobby moved its efforts to Springfield, the state capital, where it twice tried and failed to persuade the state legislature to invalidate the Morton Grove handgun control law and every other local and county law relative to weapons as well. Simultaneously it challenged the Morton Grove ordinance in both state and federal court where, in four decisions, the courts have denied, again, the gun lobby's claim that laws which regulate possession of certain weapons violate the Illinois and United States Constitutions.
In November 1982 the gun lobby supported pro-gun candidates for seats in the Illinois General Assembly. It lost in this effort, also, with voters electing both Democrats and Republicans who are advocates of handgun control. Morton Grove's representatives in the House of Representatives during the past decade have also supported handgun control, regardless of their party affiliation. National polls of the past 10 years reflect the desire for handgun control legislation, and in Morton Grove both the voters and the elected recognize why and act accordingly.
On April 12, 1983, in the municipal election for three seats on the Morton Grove Board of Trustees, the incumbents were reelected by an almost 2-to-1 margin in the most heavily voted election in the village's 87-year history. Although the traditional local elections issues were mentioned, the contest was quickly reduced to the one issue of the handgun control ordinance, with the gun lobby supporting the slate of candidates whose sole avowed purpose was to repeal the ordinance.
Arguments which play upon the emotions, even though contrary to fact and reason, can be powerfully persuasive, as history painfully reminds us. But history also teaches that, however slowly, reason ultimately prevails and society grows and matures.
The gun lobby represents the weapons industry, a billion-dollar business, not the weekend hunter, sportsman, and tournament shooters who have been exploited into the fear that their recreational interests will be sacrificed by handgun control regulations. The weapons business, like all business, manifests the instinct to survive and flourish unencumbered by regulations. But regulations, be they traffic laws, electrical and building codes, zoning laws, automobile safety standards, environmental protection laws, or handgun control laws, are established to protect the safety of all of us. It is an almost involuntary response that the industries or individuals affected by these regulations will offer resistance. Regardless of how successful this resistance may be, eventually the public tolerance for the resultant harm is exceeded and the regulatory process is called upon for relief.
The gun lobby has effectively played upon our emotions, our fears, our sense of patriotism, and our misunderstandings of law to separate itself from meaningful regulations. Its success is measured in the awful toll of death directly related to America's easily available and accessible handguns, a tragic embarrassment for our country in our own eyes and a baffling contradiction to our professed value for human life when observed from abroad. We are unique for the absence of national laws regulating handguns, and the result is the loss of more than 11,000 lives annually.
The experience of Morton Grove indicates the zenith of the gun lobby's power has passed and its influence is in decline. The national tolerance and now the political tolerance for allowing these tragedies to continue has been exceeded. The political tests have been made and reason has prevailed. The judicial test has reaffirmed the validity of regulating handguns to the benefit of society at no expense to our constitutional rights. Elected officials at all levels of government, most importantly Congress, may now comfortably reflect the national desire for handgun control and establish uniform laws which will begin to address the problems caused by unlimited access to these weapons. The political futures of our national leaders are not jeopardized by their earnest support for effective handgun control legislation. But our society's future is in jeopardy if they fail now to act.