By James W. Porter II, President
“A long time ago when I was a child, my mother used to teach me about values. And she would always wind up saying this phrase: ‘Otis, if you don’t in life find something that you would give your life for, you really haven’t lived.”’
Those are the words of Otis McDonald, the elderly grandfather and veteran—who braved death threats from gang-bangers and drug dealers in his South Side neighborhood and simultaneously fought intimidation by his city government—all to successfully challenge Chicago’s 28-year ban on handguns. At age 80, Otis McDonald succumbed to cancer April 4, 2014. He was an NRA member.
The June 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision that bears his name as lead plaintiff, McDonald v. City of Chicago, did so much more than strike down Chicago’s onerous law. That historic decision wedded the 14th Amendment to the Second Amendment, thus ensuring the right to keep and bear arms for every American and extending the 2008 landmark Heller decision to protect against infringement at state and local levels, not just by the federal government.
Upon his death, a transformation took place with the Chicago media. Perhaps Otis McDonald’s clear, simple arguments for the most fundamental civil right—armed self-defense—may have opened minds that were closed before he began his remarkable fight. I hope that’s the case. He was truly eloquent in defense of liberty and civil rights for all.
In its obituary, the Chicago Tribune wrote, “Mr. McDonald felt strongly that he had a duty to stand up for the rights that had been taken away from African-Americans during slavery. He had come to understand more about his ancestors … and the ‘black codes’ that kept guns out of the hands of freed slaves.”
The Tribune quoted him as saying, “I could feel the spirit of those people running through me as I sat in the Supreme Court.”
McDonald, who came to Chicago in 1951 after serving in the U.S. Army, was born and raised in Louisiana where his parents were sharecroppers. In his hard-fought efforts to achieve a better life, he moved his family in 1971 to what was a peaceful middle-class neighborhood.
In 2012, then speaking for passage of the Illinois concealed carry law, McDonald told a Peoria NAACP audience, “There had come a time when the neighborhood got really bad. My house had been broken into five different times. … The drug dealers and gang bangers decided to take it out on me personally because I was calling the police on them.”
His life threatened, he wanted a handgun in his home for protection. Of course, handgun ownership for law-abiding citizens was a crime.
McDonald stressed in an earlier interview that “something had to be done … surrounded by what I was surrounded by and seeing on the news what’s happening to people my age. And then to go down there [to the city government] and they say, ‘No you can’t have a handgun.’ I just wanted to protect myself, my family and my property.”
“There was so many people in the city, so many people in the state that’s being victimized by gun laws that only apply to the law-abiding citizens. How can that be right? It can’t be right.”
And so he fought, all the way to the Supreme Court.
Because of Otis McDonald’s tenacious belief in the basic human right of armed self-defense, every free citizen of these United States is more secure in their liberty. We all owe this humble, courageous man a debt of gratitude. And we send our heartfelt condolences to his family.