Otis McDonald Reflects on Impact of His Supreme Court Challenge that Clarified Second Amendment Rights for All States

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Otis McDonald with his attorney, Alan Gura, behind him. Photo courtesy of Reason.com

BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – Otis McDonald, the 77-year-old lead plaintiff in McDonald v. Chicago, had a number of fans at the Second Amendment Foundation’s 2011 Gun Rights Policy Conference waiting to thank him for successfully challenging the city’s restrictive firearms laws at the nation’s highest court that for 30 years prior had prevented Chicago residents from owning firearms inside city limits.

The Foundation honored the Morgan Park grandfather and his family at the Chicago Hyatt at the three-day conference sponsored jointly by the Second Amendment Foundation and the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, which attracted nearly 800 people from around the country.


McDonald agreed to be a lead plaintiff in the case, which was considered before the U.S. Supreme Court, because as he told ABC News the restrictive firearms laws made him feel like “the city cares more for the thugs than they do me, and I’m the one paying taxes.”

McDonald, four other Chicago residents, the Second Amendment Foundation and the Illinois State Rifle Association sought to have the U.S. Supreme Court apply another Second Amendment case, the District of Columbia v Heller, to Chicago and other cities and states across the country. That case, also funded by the Second Amendment Foundation 650,000 members, struck down a similar gun ban in Washington D.C. on June 26, 2008. The highest court in that case ruled that the Constitution protects individual rights to own a firearm for self defense.

McDonald’s case expanded the Heller decision when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on June 28, 2010, that the right of an individual to keep and bear arms protected by the Second Amendment applies to the states.

Chicago’s law enforcement has had to deal with gangs and mob violence, and in 1982, officials there thought the best solution was to ban firearms. But McDonald and many others said it left them unable to defend themselves.

“In my home, this is the only time I worry. There’s more guns coming into this city than the police can take away from them. So if I’ve got a gun, and if others have guns in their homes to protect themselves, then that’s one thing that police would have to worry about less,” McDonald told ABC News.

Chicago’s city corporation council argued that it should be up to the states and count governments to decide the Second Amendment restrictions, arguing “Handguns are used to kill in the United States more than all other weapons, firearms and otherwise, combined.”

Looking back on his experience, McDonald told Hawaii Reporter today that this experience has meant a lot to him. “In the beginning, I was just thinking about me and my family and my neighborhood, but it quickly increased size wise and effected so many people in the country.” He said his “anger” at being unable to protect himself and his family from criminals – along with prayer – gave him the courage and strength to go forward and continue the legal fight.

“This case did so much good for so many people,” McDonald told Hawaii Reporter.

McDonald said the case made him change his perspective about himself and his purpose in life: “I put myself and my family on the line. Someone needed to bring this challenge and I asked myself, ‘who better than me?'” He added, “I realize that I am needed in different places and that it doesn’t just impact myself. There are other fights to complete and I will do the best I can with what I have been given.”

Several other prominent policy leaders throughout the United States agreed with McDonald, issuing statements the day of the Supreme Court ruling. Reason magazine published several of the comments including Clark Neilly with the Institute for Justice, who said: “Today’s outcome is a tremendous victory for liberty, and we are pleased that it hinges on Justice Thomas’s compelling account of the history and purpose of the 14th Amendment, including the central role of the Privileges or Immunities Clause.”

 Josh Blackman of the Harlan Institute said: “For the first time in the history of the Supreme Court, a Justice found that an essential liberty is protected by the Privileges or Immunities Clause” and Timothy Sandefur of the Pacific Legal Foundation said: “While some parts of the decision are disappointing, the bottom line is that the state of Illinois may not legally disarm law-abiding citizens. They have a constitutional right to defend themselves from criminals who never have obeyed anti-gun laws themselves.”

Second Amendment Foundation Executive Vice President Alan Gottlieb said “This high court ruling clearly shows that the right of the individual citizen to have a gun is constitutionally protected in every corner of the United States. We are already preparing to challenge other highly-restrictive anti-gun laws across the country. Our objective is to win back our firearms freedoms one lawsuit at a time.”

Gottlieb said the organization is holding the 2011 Gun Rights Policy Conference in the Chicago area this week as a celebration of the Supreme Court ruling. McDonald was honored along with Laura McDonald, his wife of 55 years.

Alan Gottlieb, Laura McDonald, Otis McDonald and Julianne Versnel at the 2011 Second Amendment Foundation Conference in Chicago, Illinois

In addition to Otis McDonald, other plaintiffs in Second Amendment cases such as Ezell v. Chicago and Moore v. Madigan, made an appearance at the Second Amendment conference including Colleen Lawson, David Lawson, Rhonda Ezell, Michael Moore and John Maier.

A statement from the Second Amendment Foundation’s Director of Operations Julianne Versnel called them “history makers in the Second Amendment battle” and told attendees that this is “an opportunity to thank them and their families for standing up for our Second Amendment Rights.”

Attorneys Alan Gura, David Sigale and David Jensen, who argued these cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, are making presentations at the conference, and representatives from the Illinois State Rifle Association and Illinois Carry who were additional organizational plaintiffs in the McDonald case and helped fund it, also are attending.