20120429 - yardsale booty - Second Amendment s...

20120429 – yardsale booty – Second Amendment sign – IMG_4099 (Photo credit: Rev. Xanatos Satanicos Bombasticos (ClintJCL))

This article was first published at The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Monday, April 7, 2014: 

Few knew Otis McDonald. Fewer still knew how he became the lead plaintiff in the historical Second Amendment lawsuit McDonald v. Chicago, decided by the in 2010. With his passing from this life last Friday, one thing is certain: his legacy is sure to grow.

One of 12 children of a sharecropper, Otis was born in 1933. At age 17 he joined the Army. Two years later he moved to Chicago looking for work. After years of working part-time jobs, barely making ends meet, he finally secured a position with the University of Chicago – as a janitor.

But he persisted. He went to night school. He took on additional responsibilities. He got an associate’s degree. He eventually was promoted to the chief maintenance engineer for one of the university’s buildings.

He got married, started a family, bought a modest home in a nice suburb of Chicago in 1971. In 1996 he retired.

So far, nothing exceptional. Except that the neighborhood where he lived had deteriorated so much, becoming infiltrated – some would say infested – by thugs, gang members, dope dealers and other vermin who threatened his elderly neighbors, that Otis began to fear for his life. He told Chicago Magazine:

You go out there in the morning and pick up bottles and things [they have] thrown on my lawn.

[Gang members] are out there at three in the morning, in the middle of the street, drinking and smoking their stuff.

They throw stuff all over [my] lawn and [I] can’t say anything because they might up and shoot [me].

His house had been broken into three times and his garage twice. Although he owned some rifles and shotguns, in the event of a home invasion they wouldn’t help much. As he told Massad Ayoob:

I own long guns … but how long do you think it will take me [at age 76] to get up, get out of bed, and get my hands on a shotgun if someone is breaking in through my bedroom window?

Buying a handgun in Chicago was out of the question, thanks to Mayor Jane Byrne who in 1982 signed into law one of the most draconian gun control laws in the nation. Otis began to get interested in changing the law and started attending some meetings and rallies. At one of them he met a guy who knew a guy who might be able to help: Mr. Alan Gura, an attorney with the Second Amendment Foundation.

Hard on the heels of his victory in 2008 in Heller v. District of Columbia, Gura was looking for an opportunity to allow the court expand that decision in favor of the Second Amendment. Heller only ruled that the Second Amendment applied to individuals living in federal enclaves like DC. Gura and the Second Amendment Foundation wanted to give the a chance to expand that decision into every state in the union, using the “incorporation” strategy and the Fourteenth Amendment.

Gura had the strategy. All he needed were plaintiffs with standing. It would be nice if they also obliterated the anti-gunners’ perception of right-wing gun nuts. It would be nice if he could find an anti-gun liberal, for example, or a woman who had no use for until she was attacked.

And it would be nice if he could find a good-natured, hard-working middle class individual who just wanted to protect himself and his family from violence, but couldn’t, thanks to Chicago’s gun laws. It would also be nice if he were black.

He found all three. In reality, they found him. Adam Orlov came from a anti-gun background. Said Orlov: “I grew up in Rogers Park … a very liberal household: no firearms, no hunters, nothing like that.” He was, however, a police officer in Evanston and had developed an interest in the law. He followed the Heller case closely and when he learned that Gura was planning a follow-up by suing Chicago, Orlov approached Gura.

One down, two to go. Colleen and David Lawson, a mixed-race, middle-aged couple living in a forgettable middle-class neighborhood near Chicago came to Gura’s attention after Colleen had a little run-in with some local criminals. Up until then she had no interest in or use for guns. But one afternoon she was at home sick with the flu when three thugs broke into her home and threatened her. It was an epiphany for Colleen, and Gura asked them to be plaintiff number two.

It didn’t take Gura long to decide that number three would be Otis. It took even less time for him to put Otis in first position, because he was black. Gura had noted in Justice Scalia’s opinion in Heller that, according to Scalia,

Blacks were routinely disarmed by Southern States after the Civil War. Those who opposed these injustices frequently state that they infringed blacks’ right to keep and bear arms.

That indicated to Gura a potential sympathy vote in the upcoming lawsuit. Naming Otis as a plaintiff would also confound and frustrate further the anti-gunners’ misperception that Americans were knuckle-dragging Neanderthals. Otis was perfect to obliterate that stereotype.

Following the ’s ruling in McDonald, the Seventh Circuit of Appeals ruled in two separate cases (Ezell v. Chicago and Moore v. Madigan) that not only were Chicago’s gun laws unconstitutional but that the Illinois legislature had to go back and rewrite its state laws prohibiting concealed carry. A long story short: in January Illinois began, for the first time in nearly thirty years, issuing permits.

When Ayoob learned that McDonald would be the lead plaintiff in Gura’s lawsuit, he wrote:

When the Second Amendment Foundation mounted this challenge to the Chicago handgun ban, they could not have made a better choice.

Mr. McDonald is your quintessential hard-working, self-made American.

He was also courageous. Upon learning of Otis’ passing on Friday, Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, said:

The things he went through and the things he felt in order to carry on this campaign against the city of Chicago required bravery and courage … and he had it.

May this honest, humble, and unpretentious man who just wanted to live a quiet and peaceable life, enjoying the rights guaranteed to him in the Constitution, rest in peace. And may his legacy continue to grow.



Daily Caller: Gun rights activist Otis McDonald passes away

Massad Ayoob’s Obit on Otis McDonald

Massad Ayoob’s interview with Otis McDonald in March, 2010

McDonald v. Chicago

Chicago Tribune:        Otis McDonald, 1933-2014

Chicago Magazine: On Otis McDonald and his lawsuit challenging Chicago’s 1982 handgun ban

Heller v. District of Columbia

Far Northwest Side neighborhood of Chicago

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