A group of civil rights activists on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against three Chicago suburbs alleging that weak oversight of gun stores has allowed criminals to easily obtain weapons flowing into a metropolitan area besieged by gang violence.
The lawsuit filed in Cook County Circuit Court accuses the communities of Lyons, Riverdale and Lincolnwood of violating the civil rights of residents in Chicago's largely African American neighborhoods by failing to take steps to make sure gun stores are not selling to people who should not be allowed to carry them.
The complaint against the towns said gun stores there, along with stores in Gary, Indiana, supply a fifth of guns seized by police at crime scenes in the city.
“Those illegal firearms are flowing into a pocket of communities violating the civil rights of the individuals who reside there, who are afraid to go near their windows or let their children play in the park, much less their own yards,” said Kathleen Sances, a member of the Coalition for Safe Chicago Communities, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
“It's is just another harassment lawsuit,” said Richard Pearson, the executive director of Illinois State Rifle Association. “They found the gun shops did nothing wrong so they are trying to put pressure on the communities to do something that will drive (the stores) out of business.”
Seven people were shot to death in Chicago during the three-day Fourth of July weekend, including 7-year-old Amari Brown, focusing national attention on the city's gun violence and statistics showing the number of homicides and shootings has again climbed.
With between 400-500 murders a year, almost all with guns, Chicago lags other big U.S. cities in bringing down homicides. Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, on the job for four years, says the biggest factor in the city's high crime rate is illegal weapons, many purchased in the suburbs.
A Chicago Police Department study that showed that between 2009 and 2013, 2,000 guns sold in the stores in Riverdale and Lyons were used in crimes, according to those bringing the suit.
The lawsuit was brought by prominent activist Rev. Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Catholic Church on Chicago's South Side, Rev. Robin Hood, a pastor on the West Side, and other plaintiffs including two mothers whose children were victims of gun violence.
Pfleger accused leaders of the suburbs of “closing their eyes” in order to collect taxes from the gun businesses, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
In Illinois, it is up to municipal governments to license and regulate gun dealers.
The lawsuit asked a judge to order the towns to force the gun shops to do background checks on their employees and to take steps to reduce gun purchases by straw men.
The lawsuit said training could help employees and managers identify common signs of someone purchasing the gun for someone else. The stores should keep a log of purchases of all guns that are later recovered in a crime, and then block sales to any customer that has purchased guns used in a crime, the complaint said.
Lyons Village President Christopher Getty said in a statement released by a public relations firm characterized the lawsuit as an effort by Chicago to “pass the blame onto outside communities and businesses for the crimes and short-comings in dealing with crimes” in the city. An official with Lincolnwood declined comment, and a call to Riverdale was not returned.
Al Jazeera and wire services