The meeting, conducted by the village’s Board of Health, came more than a year after a U.S. Supreme Court decision gutted a local handgun ban and a few weeks after the opening of a gun shop on Roosevelt Road in the western suburb.
Members of the Illinois State Rifle Association arrived in gold hats, t-shirts and other identifying clothing and were directed by village staff to sit in the back.
Village Manager Tom Barwin gave a brief background on the village’s history with firearm laws, touching on Oak Park’s April 1984 handgun ban and the July 2010 invalidation of the village’s ban following theU.S. Supreme Court’s decision regarding Second Amendment rights.
“Tonight is a forum to hear from Oak Parkers (and the) ideas, suggestions and thoughts in light of the McDonald case and the invalidation of the Oak Park handgun ban,” Barwin said. “What, if anything, should the board consider in order for Oak Park to stay the safe and nurturing community it has been…It’s quite clear firearms, violence, accidents and crimes are costly to our village in a myriad of ways.”
Barwin said the bottom line is to get all sides on the issue together in one room to come up with strategies and ideas.
“This is so we can do all we can collectively to make sure children aren’t taken down by stray bullets,” Barwin said Monday. “That could mean solutions like education efforts or training efforts. We’re not trying to do any interpretation of the Second Amendment. We’re just coming together to minimize the proliferation of firearms ending up in the wrong hands.”
Oak Park residents were invited to sit in the front rows and speak first during public comment. Residents spoke on both sides of the issue, all greeted with nods and murmurs from the audience.
Oak Park resident Dan Dittmer said he, his wife and children regularly face crime and violence in their neighborhood, and often work with police during and after crimes in their area. Dittmer said he owns a firearm, but has never found the need to use it.
“In each case -- escalation into violence -- I had in my possession options to protect my family when every second counted and my friends, the police, were minutes away,” Dittmer said. “Public safety is responsible, capable adult citizens in an encouraged cooperative.”
Michael Podolak, an Oak Park resident, said he has a long family history of gun use and ownership, but has seen first-hand how powerful they are when in the wrong hands.
“I feel strongly about people being educated,” Podolak said. “Not everyone is responsible. People become complacent. People become frustrated. That weapon, whatever it is --- handgun, rifle, shotgun --- was designed for one purpose long ago. Please think about that.”
Jim Kelly, an Oak Park resident who said he lives near a new gun shop on Roosevelt, said he’s aware the village can’t prohibit the sales of guns, but would like to see stricter zoning ordinances on where gun shops can be located.
“We should create a zoning code to position firearm sales away from parks, schools, playgrounds and daycare centers,” Kelly said. “That’s a safety measure that must be in place.”
Oak Park resident Edward Ferraro said he would like to see the public health department focus more on controlling gangs than controlling guns.
The Illinois State Rifle Association had sent a message to members via Facebook urging them to attend the meeting.
“There’s been no crime wave since taken over since the handgun ban was lifted. There’s actually been a decrease in crime,” Illinois State Rifle Association Vice President Mike Weisman said.
Berwyn resident Justin Delafuente recently applied for a business license to open Windy City Firearms on Roosevelt Road.
Village Clerk Teresa Powell said the gun shop opened last month and primarily conducts Internet-based sales.