Morton Grove shocked the nation more than three decades ago when trustees voted to ban all handguns in town. That ordinance was upheld for 24 years before the highest legal authority deemed it unconstitutional in 2008.
Five years later, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Illinois’ ban on concealed carry, and now Morton Grove’s police administration is developing policies that go against decades worth of training.
Larry Schey spent 37 years with the Morton Grove’s police department and was appointed chief a few months before trustees approved the ban in 1981.
“People from all across the free world were calling me asking about what we did or asking how we enforced it,” Schey said. “For many months, not a day went by that I didn’t have at least one message from someone in London, California or wherever.”
Though he had no say in the policy, Schey was actually glad it passed.
“It really bothers me when I turn the radio on every Monday and hear the weekend death count in Chicago,” Schey said. “The common person lacks mental training on how and when to use a weapon. Police officers train ritually and have great aim, but nothing is accurate enough when you’re dealing with other people’s lives.”
Ultimately, Schey knows it was only a matter of time before both Morton Grove and Illinois’ bans would be overruled.
“I’m all for restricting guns in some way or form, but I don’t think it’s doable in this day and age,” Schey said. “We’re 200 years too late to make decisions on that freedom.”
Current Chief Mark Erickson and Commander Paul Yaras worked under Schey during the ban and are now charged with developing new policy for police officers in the field.
As a patrol officer at the time, Yaras said he never came across a resident with a gun, and Morton Grove’s ordinance was the last thing on his mind when he did encounter a gun.
“It was usually pretty clear that those suspects shouldn’t have had a gun or be where they were,” Yaras said. “Those were pretty clear-cut, highly-suspicious situations, and I think that’s what we’ll run into now as well.”
Erickson, on the other hand, said plenty of guns were taken from homes when officers responded to reports of domestic violence.
“We took a fair amount of handguns off the streets back then,” Erickson said. “However, our government decides what’s best for our citizens and we are bound to uphold those laws and protect everyone’s rights. Carrying a weapon is now a right in Illinois and we took oaths to support that right.”
Erickson preferred to keep his personal opinions private, but said, professionally, he has no data that indicates crime will increase or decrease as a result of Illinois’ new law.
“Sometimes these laws exempt certain jurisdictions, like Chicago, because of ongoing issues,” Erickson said. “Springfield didn’t want that this time and their intention with making a statewide policy was pretty smart. I think Morton Grove made an outstanding ordinance on assault weapons but look at how different our neighbors’ policies are. If the state made concealed carry a local decision, everything would be spotty and confusing. Now everyone plays by the same rules.”
Concealed carry won’t be legal for at least six months, Erickson said, in which his department will debate and test a wide array of practices for encountering guns.
For safety, police academies teach cadets to always be prepared for violent encounters, like facing someone with a gun. Erickson said Morton Grove’s officers will now assume everyone has a gun and approach citizens even more defensively than they already do.
“Ninety-eight percent of our residents are law-abiding and have common sense, but you never know where that 2 percent might be and who they might hurt,” Erickson said.
Specific postures or techniques for spotting a gun holder are still in the works. Yaras said once permits and other paperwork are designed, Morton Grove officers will get extensive training on how to identify real documents versus fakes.