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Federal judge rules Chicago's ban on gun sales, transfers is unconstitutional

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CHICAGO - A federal judge on Monday overturned Chicago's ban on the sale and transfer of firearms, ruling that the city's ordinances aimed at reducing gun violence are unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Edmond E. Chang said in his ruling that while the government has a duty to protect its citizens, it's also obligated to protect constitutional rights, including the right to keep and bear arms for self-defence. However, Chang said he would temporarily stay the effects of his ruling, meaning the ordinances can stand while the city decides whether to appeal.

The decision is just the latest to attack what were some of the toughest gun-control laws in the U.S. In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Chicago's long-standing gun ban. And last year, Illinois legislators were forced by a federal appeals court 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 officials of surrounding Cook County 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.

Todd Vandermyde, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, an influential gun rights group, applauded Chang's decision, saying the fact a federal judge appointed by President Barack Obama "ruled in favour of the Second Amendment, shows how out of step and outrageous Chicago's ordinances really are." The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees "the right of the people to keep and bear arms."

Roderick Drew, a spokesman for Chicago's law department, said Mayor Rahm Emanuel disagrees with Chang's ruling and has instructed the city's lawyer to consider options to regulate gun sales.

"Every year Chicago police recover more illegal guns than officers in any city in the country, a factor of lax federal laws as well as lax laws in Illinois and surrounding states," Drew said. "We need stronger gun safety laws, not increased access to firearms within the city."

Chang's ruling came in a lawsuit filed by the Illinois Association of Firearms Retailers and three Chicago residents. The judge noted Chicago's ban covers not only federally licensed firearms dealers, but also gifts among family members, all in the name of reducing gun violence.

Chang wrote that the third-largest U.S. city "goes too far in outright banning legal buyers and legal dealers from engaging in lawful acquisitions and lawful sales of firearms, and at the same time the evidence does not support that the complete ban sufficiently furthers the purposes that the ordinance tries to serve."

Chicago last year had more homicides than any city in the U.S. City officials have long acknowledged the ban on gun sales has been weakened due to the legal sale of guns in some surrounding suburbs and states.

Chicago gun collector Kenneth Pacholski, one of the plaintiffs, said he has no interest in selling guns and buys only antique guns that he intends to keep. But he said Chicago's ban was unreasonable.

"All the people I know who own guns legally are really careful," said Pacholski, whose wife, also was a plaintiff. "I'm a collector; my guns are not going anywhere unless I know where they're going because I don't want to be responsible for someone's death."

Illinois Council Against Hand Gun Violence campaign co-ordinator Mark Walsh said he wasn't surprised by the ruling, based on the court's recent rulings on Chicago's gun control measures.

"I'm not sure what the city's plan is (in reacting to ruling), but I think obviously there is a need to make sure gun dealers coming into the city are aware of those who have restrictions on gun ownership and don't sell to them," he said.

Chicago still has a ban on assault weapons.

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Associated Press reporters Michael Tarm and Tammy Webber contributed to this report

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