A suburban case involving a man who threw a gun onto a recreational trail while evading police is at the center of an Illinois Supreme Court decision declaring a key state gun law unconstitutional.

The high court ruled 7-0 last Friday that a law prohibiting someone from having a firearm within 1,000 feet of a park violates the right to bear arms guaranteed in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The 25-page decision calls the law "a severe burden on the recognized Second Amendment right of self-defense." Justices noted that the 1,000-foot restriction means people couldn't legally carry firearms in most parts of Chicago, and there was no evidence presented that the restriction protects park users from violence.

"The most troubling aspect is the lack of any notification where the 1,000-foot restriction zone starts and where it would end," the court added.

The ruling stems from the case of Julio C. Chairez Jr., convicted of unlawful use of a weapon in connection with a February 2013 traffic stop in Aurora.

Authorities said that after the car Chairez was riding in was pulled over, he got out and threw a bag over a fence. It landed on the Virgil Gilman Trail, a 12-mile path owned by the Fox Valley Park District. When police recovered it, they found a .25-caliber handgun and ammunition, according to court records.

Chairez pleaded guilty to the weapons charge in April 2013, getting a two-year probation sentence, but then sought to vacate his conviction. That set in motion the case's journey to the state's highest court.

Mixed reaction

Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, applauded the ruling, calling the 1,000-foot bans "artificial" and not supported by evidence.

"There's a lot of towns you can't go anyplace (with a gun) because of those 1,000-foot rules," Pearson said. "The only people this affects are law-abiding citizens. You can't go anywhere in Chicago. You could not even drive through."

Colleen Daley, executive director of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, disagreed.

"With gun violence surging, we should be able to feel safe in our parks and public spaces, and that means respecting laws created with the intent of keeping Illinoisans safe from gun violence."

Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon said he hopes the General Assembly will redraft the law. "Government has a legitimate interest in public safety," he said.

One more thing

The high court decision addressed only the ban on firearm possession near parks, leaving in place (for now) identical 1,000-foot restrictions on schools, places of worship, courthouses, public transportation facilities and government-supported housing.


Artificial-intelligence bots aren't just for Russian trolls trying to interfere with our elections. They actually can do some good.

Case in point: The Cook County sheriff's office's new bot program called "Project Intercept" to combat sex trafficking. The sheriff's office, along with a Seattle advocacy group, launched the bot in recent weeks as part of a nationwide sting operation.

Here's how it works: Project Intercept posts online ads with phone numbers that connect to bots (automated programs that run over the internet) posing as sex workers. The bots -- with names like Ariel, Brook and Cari -- interact by text message with individuals trying to buy sex, eventually agreeing with the john on a price.

At that point, the bot sends a message letting the sex buyer know that soliciting is a crime. It also directs them to websites with more information on the harms of soliciting sex.

The program was activated last month as part of the 15th National Johns Suppression Initiative, a national operation that led to the arrests of at least 638 johns across the country, including nearly 70 in Cook and Lake counties. Besides here, Project Intercept was activated in Boston, Seattle, Los Angeles and Phoenix.

It also was launched on Super Bowl Sunday in Minneapolis, where it recorded more interactions than any other city that day.

"This incredible technology helps to further the work done by law enforcement to bring attention to the exploitive nature of the sex trafficking industry and reduce the demand for purchased sex that serves to perpetuate a cycle of violence, mental illness and drug addiction for victims," Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said.

Des Plaines police officer Kevin Zerbe, left, received the city's Life Saving Award this week for pulling a resident from a burning house in October. He's joined here by Mayor Matt Bogusz, center, and Police Chief William Kushner. Courtesy of Des Plaines
Hero honored

Des Plaines police officer Kevin Zerbe received the city's Life Saving Award this week for saving a disabled resident from a burning house in October.

Zerbe was among several first responders called to the house on the 300 block of South Westgate Road on Oct. 22. Residents who had escaped told him there was still a man inside. Zerbe entered the smoke-filled house, located the resident and brought him to safety.

"Given the nature and intensity of the fire, were it not for Officer Zerbe's quick actions, in conjunction with the efforts of the other officers, the subject in the home would have succumbed to smoke inhalation if not the fire itself," a city memo reads. "Officer Zerbe's selflessness and commitment to duty are to be commended, and bring great credit to him and to the Des Plaines Police Department."

Illinois State Police Lt. Rich Kozik died after falling ill while on duty Wednesday at the agency's Downers Grove offices. He was 59. Courtesy of Illinois State Police
End of watch

Illinois State Police are mourning the unexpected death of Lt. Rich Kozik, 59, who fell ill and died while on duty Wednesday at the agency's Downers Grove office.

"Rich was not only a great leader but a personal friend," state police Director Leo P. Schmitz said. "Rich was a dedicated 19-year veteran who was respected and revered by many both inside and outside our department."

Kozik, who graduated from the department's academy in 1996, oversaw state police District 15's Motorcycle Unit, Truck Enforcement Unit and the Criminal Patrol Team.

Campton Hills is the third-safest community in Illinois, according to a new report by the National Council for Home Safety and Security. Lindenhurst, Buffalo Grove and Cary also are in the top 10. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer, 2012
Safety town

Every year we see numerous lists ranking the safest cities in Illinois and across the country. The latest comes from the National Council for Home Safety and Security, which places Campton Hills, Lindenhurst, Buffalo Grove and Cary among the 10 safest towns in the state.

For its rankings, the council took data from the most recent FBI Uniform Crime Report, then weighted violent crimes to determine which towns are safest. For the full list, check out www.alarms.org/safest-cities-in-illinois-2018/.

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