IT ISN'T SITTING well with the National Rifle Association's self-appointed guardians of the Second Amendment, but a federal judge has just struck a blow for freedom from handguns--for the right to ban arms. That is what the people in the Chicago suburb of Morton Grove, Ill., had spoken for, what their board of trustees had voted for, and what a judge now says violates neither the state nor the federal constitution.
You haven't heard the last shot, of course, because the NRA and others involved in the care and feeding of America's arsenal of handguns have vowed to appeal the ruling. But in the meantime, those whose pursuit of happiness includes a hope for more protection of life and limb should find comfort in the judge's notation that village trustees had concluded that "the public interest outweighed the claimed personal interest of the opponents of this legislation. The ultimate settlement of this troublesome political question must be returned to the citizens of Morton Grove where it properly belongs rather than in the court."
It was these citizens who decided that they didn't want handguns sold in their midst and who prompted their trustees first to ban sales and then to add a prohibition on possession as well. Their ordinance requires guns to be turned in, and calls for penalties of up to $500 in fines and up to six months in jail for those convicted of violations. But it does not prohibit handgun possession by collectors, military personnel and target shooters.
U.S. District Court Judge Bernard M. Decker cited an 1886 Supreme Court decision, which held that the Second Amendment protection of the right to bear arms applies only to laws passed by Congress. He said the Illinois constitution also protects citizens' rights to have guns but gives local government, under police powers, the right to impose restrictions--to protect the general health and welfare of its people.
If Morton Grove turns out to pave the way for similar actions by municipalities--such as the ban on handgun ammunition that has won village approval in nearby Friendship Heights, Md.--perhaps lawmakers at higher levels will respond to popular demand instead of high-powered lobbying based on overblown and warped interpretations of patriotism and individual liberties. After all, how much more American can you get than to have villages across this land of gunfire stand up for their right to live in safety and to control a little more of their destiny?