Rhonda Ezell wanted the ability to protect herself after coming off of life support and being the target of several break-ins and threats. In an effort to do the legally responsible thing to become a firearm owner, Ezell set about trying to buy a firearm on the heels of McDonald v. Chicago. However, she found a new system had been set into place by the city of Chicago that made it prohibitive by enacting the “Chicago Firearms Permit” (CFP).
Residents were required to have eight hours of classroom training and range qualification; however, firearm ranges for public use were barred under city ordinance. This is where Ezell’s fight began and the seeds of her group, Chicago Guns Matter, were planted.
As she discovered, Ezell would have to travel more than 50 miles to Dundee, Ill., from her home on the south side of Chicago. “The class I had to go to for training, they were partnered up with Get Gun, that’s the range they use. I hadn’t been in Dundee since I was a kid. That was extremely far to be driving. I thought we were going to finish our class and maybe go into the basement of [their] building, and it had a range or something in it, and it wasn’t that,” she recalled.
Rhonda Ezell recognizes the importance of our Second Amendment, and she is spreading that message. (Photo by Lisa Blackwell; top photo by Kelly Pidgeon)
From there, Ezell and other parties involved in Ezell v. Chicago challenged Chicago on the ban of target ranges and live-fire training facilities. The case was appealed and the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling that later led to Ezell winning the challenge on a complete ban of ranges. However, while Chicago changed its ordinances to “allow” ranges, the city manipulated the zoning rules and construction requirements to make it impossible to build one. The case was taken again to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, and after seven years, the court ruled Chicago’s ban on ranges by zoning law was unconstitutional. According to chicagogunsmatter.com, “[The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals] struck down limiting gun ranges to manufacturing districts as well as the age restriction of a minor.”
However, there is still no gun range in Chicago, an effort Ezell is just as passionate about as her Second Amendment advocacy. “There is no specific ‘why’ there isn’t one. It’s just that people haven’t found the right location. A lot of people are concerned about being overtaxed. This is Chicago. Once again, it will be a political thing. You have to strategically find the area that you want to put it in, and a lot of people are concerned with how much taxes will they be taxed in the city of Chicago to build a range. I get that. But at the end of the day, a gun range is needed.”
The fight, however, is still not over, as Ezell has been working continuously with other like-minded individuals to dispel the misinformation and ignorance surrounding Chicagoans’ Second Amendment rights. “We felt the need for Chicago Guns Matter in the Chicagoland area because the citizens of the city of Chicago were not exercising their fundamental constitutional right to keep and bear arms,” Ezell explained. “The state of Illinois was the last state to get concealed carry. We knew the political powers to be did not want gun ownership in the city of Chicago, so after winning [McDonald v. Chicago and Ezell v. Chicago], we wanted to figure out how could we reach out to the black and urban communities so that we could educate them on their rights, on how to exercise their fundamental constitutional rights, because they weren’t doing it; our citizens were not engaged.”
Part of her mission is to make sure that future generations understand the importance of our firearms freedom, so working with children is a component of Rhonda Ezell's advocacy work.
Enthusiastic is the response Ezell has received from Chicagoans and Illinois residents around her work. Ezell and Chicago Guns Matter visit a variety of local events. Second Amendment supporters have made their feelings known, and, so far, Ezell has not had any negative encounters. “We’re engaging with the people. When they see that sign, Chicago Guns Matter, their eyes get big, and, you know, because they’re smiling, that lets me know they are firearm owners, or they have thought about it but they didn’t know where to go. They’re happy because now they’ve picked [us] out [and realize], ‘Here’s a place that we can get information from,’” she said.
Chicago Guns Matter advocates by handing out literature at train stations, events and even bus stations. But Ezell wanted to reach people in the most easily accessible method urban populations are used to: social media. Using the names and cases of those who had stood during the fight of landmark cases—including Lawson v. Chicago, Moore v. MadiganandShepard v. Madigan—Chicago Guns Matter provides current information on laws and requirements, as well as the information on the cases that have made firearm ownership more accessible to Chicago residents.
Often she meets people who still do not know they can now own a firearm for personal carry use or even keep it in their home. “To this day, there are a lot of people that aren’t aware that they can carry a gun legally or that they can legally have a gun in their home. We want to make sure we can touch these people, reach out and say, ‘Look you can do this, this is how you do that, without any consequences if you do it the legal and lawful way,’” Ezell explained.
As with all wars on the front for constitutional rights, not just the Second Amendment, elections bring positive and negative change, and the midterm elections in Illinois shifted the battle. But Ezell and Chicago Guns Matter aren’t going to give up the fight after seven years of hard work. “The midterms brought a bunch of anti-Second Amendment individuals into office. We’ve got to continue to fight hard because the people that aren’t aware of what’s really going on. It’s going to take new faces and new cases to keep this fight alive.”