Otis McDonald, the man who took on Chicago’s highly restrictive gun laws and won, died on Friday, April 4 after a long illness. He was 80.
McDonald was the lead plaintiff in McDonald v. Chicago. In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment’s protection of an individual right to own a gun—a right the court acknowledged in the 2008 case District of Columbia v. Heller—applies not just to federal jurisdictions, such as Washington, D.C., but also to the states.
McDonald, a retired maintenance engineer at the University of Chicago and former head of his local union, became active in the Chicago gun-rights movement after witnessing rampant gang activity in his Morgan Park neighborhood. His own house, where he lived with his wife Laura, was broken into five times. McDonald wanted to be able to protect himself and his family, but the city made it impossible for him to obtain the most effective means to do so: it banned handguns outright and made it very difficult to own a long gun.
In seeking to vindicate his own rights, McDonald helped vindicate everyone’s rights under the Second Amendment. McDonald said he told Alan Gura, the lead lawyer in the Heller case who was looking for plaintiffs to challenge Chicago’s gun laws: “Are you willing to go all the way? Then I’m your man, with the name and all. Furthermore, we are going to win.”
Win they did. Before McDonald, the Second Amendment protected the 600,000 residents of Washington, D.C. After McDonald, the Second Amendment protects the gun rights of 300 million people living across the country.
For more on Otis McDonald and McDonald v. Chicago, see Brian Doherty’s “You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby,” in the October 2010 issue of Reason magazine; and the Chicago Tribune’s obituary, “Otis McDonald, 1933-2014: Fought Chicago’s gun ban,” April 6, 2014.