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updated: 9/12/2013 8:36 AM

Chicago City Council reluctantly waters down gun ordinance

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Associated Press

Forced to weaken one of the nation's toughest gun-control laws, the Chicago City Council clearly signaled it wasn't backing down on Wednesday by banning concealed weapons in all bars and restaurants that sell liquor -- and noting that attorneys were ready to fight the anticipated legal challenges.

State legislators were forced by a federal appeals court in July to adopt a law allowing residents to carry concealed weapons in Illinois, the only state that still banned the practice. The resulting state law largely stripped city and county officials of their authority to regulate guns, which especially irked officials in Chicago, where residents had to apply for concealed-carry permits through the police chief.

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Alderman reluctantly watered down that ordinance on Wednesday, but then approved the gun ban for bars and restaurants. They took turns defending the new ban and issued a lightly veiled challenge to gun rights advocates, including the National Rifle Association.

"Bullets and booze don't mix," said Alderman Edward Burke, one of the sponsors of the ordinance. "For those of you who might be worried about the expense of defending this when the NRA sues, as they've threatened to do, (a Chicago law firm) has agreed to represent the city to defend this matter on a pro bono basis."

The state law includes a provision that allows guns in restaurants and taverns that make less than 50 percent of their profits off alcohol sales, but Chicago aldermen said the city's restaurant owners wanted guns banned inside their establishments. Signs have popped up at scores of Chicago restaurants warning patrons that they are gun-free zones, and aldermen said they had to move quickly to protect the local businesses.

The state law also gives Illinois State Police sole authority to issue concealed-carry permits, so alderman were forced to delete from Chicago's ordinance any requirement that residents obtain and pay for a city permit to carry a concealed handgun.

But the city -- which last year had more homicides than any city in the nation -- still has an assault weapons ban, and Chicago does not allow gun dealers within its boundaries.

Still, Wednesday's votes were the latest chapter in the city's dwindling power to ban guns in Chicago. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the city's longstanding gun ban in 2010.

NRA lobbyist Todd Vandermyde said gun rights advocates would prevail if they sued, just as they have in previous cases, including the Supreme Court case that struck down Chicago's gun ban.

"They are on a losing streak and the courts continually keep telling them that they can't do what they think they can," Vandermyde said.

He argued that the new ban treats the average person as a second-class citizen, because it provides exemptions for some groups of people, such as retired law enforcement officers. He also doesn't believe the city can enforce rules that are stricter than the state law.

But aldermen said they believed their votes Wednesday were on solid legal ground and had the backing of local residents and businesses. Even if they ultimately lose the anticipated legal challenges, aldermen said, the fight is worth the effort.

"It is important for people in our communities to know we are going to continue to do what we can to limit violence that's brought about by handguns," Alderman Patrick O'Connor said.

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